I Can't Smell Or Taste: Here's What I Thought Of Last Night's Great British Bake Off

Unsplash - Nathan Bingle

Great British Bake Off doesn’t usually reduce me to tears.

Nothing about the twinkly jingle, model-like squirrels or supreme psychedelic fantasy of Noel’s shirts made me sad - even a camera crew tucked under a tent in the pouring rain made me feel cosy.

Then, in March 2018, everything changed. I lost my sense of smell - and with it - my taste.

I had developed anosmia after an incredibly mundane, enduring cold. I stood in the kitchen, frustrated, and told my mum I couldn’t smell or taste - but that’s normal with a cold, isn’t it? Days turned into weeks, then months. My family’s time was spent tracing ENT specialists, desperate for a reason; a cure. Each of them told me they didn’t know what to say, until one finally did: “Give it two years. If it’s not back then, it’s not coming back. And besides - there are worse things to lose.”

He was the last consultant I saw.

I was 26, and had no idea how the diagnosis would change my life. In denial, I watched the first episode of GBBO 2018 wishing to be dropped into the safety of my memories, back when the show was nothing more than a time-filler. At first I thought it was fine - but with every “you can’t even taste the orange in this!”; “way too much salt”; “chocolate and avocado - really?”, tears threw themselves from my eyes, running away from my reality.

Until then, the isolation of my disability hadn’t hit me. I began to question everything - can I remember how orange tastes, or even smells, anymore? How will I know if I use too much salt? And, what the hell does chocolate and avocado taste like?!

It’s been a year since my first attempt. And so, doing what every Brit does when they’re uncomfortable, I make myself some tea and tell myself everything will be fine, as I log on to 4OD, 8pm on a Tuesday evening.

On your marks, get set - bake.

It’s fruitcake week, and so far nothing but the abhorrent use of moist has upset me.

Is this activity an education in resilience? As I’m watching, everyone else is having the same experience as me. Does it get across what I’ve been trying to capture - how it feels to be passive whilst others comment on smell or taste? Is what I’m feeling exactly the same? There’s distance, but it’s not quite right.

The cake looks a little bit sad”. Hollywood’s comment makes me smile - one year on, and a cake looks sadder than me. This is an achievement. Onto the technical - angel cake. I like this task; it’s hugely visual and easy for a spectator to judge - and some of them look like marbled nail-varnish gone wrong. Am I having an opinion on food? Choosing what to eat as an anosmic is weird; you learn to pick textures instead of—

—“the flavour matters more than anything.” Prue’s clipped words cut and pull me back from my simple euphoria. Taste does matter the most. No matter how good a texture is, or how good something looks, if it tastes horrible you can’t move past it.

Half an hour to go - and showstoppers have entered the game.

I’ve always loved Tom Hovey's illustrations - perhaps the one remaining constant in this whole experience (other than my love for Noel’s wardrobe), but I’m struggling now. I flick onto Instagram: a friend says she’s living the dream holding a cup of tea aloft, cheering at the TV. I’ve got the same setup here - so why am I not feeling the same?

One and a half hours later, it’s over - and I don’t think I’ve concentrated this much on food ever. There’s more to anosmia than just food - your safety is compromised (if you scoff, imagine being in a kitchen with gas spilling out of the hob and being none the wiser. I wish this was a hypothetical situation, but I’ve experienced it). If you find joy in cooking for others, would you feel the same if your judgement was removed? Could you cook something and not taste it along the way?

I baked for the first time in over a year yesterday. I had a recipe, and I followed it word for word. It lessened the pressure; if it was bad, it wasn’t my fault - I just followed instructions. I’m trying to stretch myself and learn my new normal. Exposing myself to someone’s relaxing evening activity has been a mental challenge, but one I’m proud of completing. Will I rush back to do it again next week?

I think I’ll rely on Twitter to tell me which cake has fallen over this season.


Anosmia pt.2

He presses a syringe between my lips and pushes down. 

“This won’t taste nice.”

A fine mist fills my mouth.

He removes the syringe and primes another, clumsily inserting it in my right nostril before spraying again. A thin veil of something trickles down the back of my throat.

I swallow.

“Great.” He turns away. “God, the taste is really bad, isn’t it?” He turns back, a smile on his face, syringe replaced with a stick of silver nitrate. He rolls it between his thumb and forefinger. “So, for the bleeding–” he jabs the stick up my right nostril, banging gleefully on either side of the cavity like a child with a brand-new drum.

It feels like a fire is galloping into my brain.

“So, really – can’t smell or taste anything?” He pulls the rod from my nose, catching my upper lip.

“No, nothing.”

“Huh. I’d hate that.”

I keep contact with his eyes. “Yeah.”

“Wait a minute.” He breaks, looking at his desk. He shakes the mouse to wake up his computer. Double-clicks. Pushes return. The printer whirs, spitting out a single sheet of A4.

He holds it out for me. I take it. It’s still warm.

Please see the Accounts Team to settle your cost of treatment.

“Well,” he adjusts his shirt. “Thanks, then.”

Photo by Mishal Ibrahim on Unsplash

Anosmia pt.1

“I have to ask,” a pen springs to a close between his fingers. “Have you taken cocaine?”

His office is too big.

There’s a partly dismantled examining table next to me, legs splayed, trying its best to prove it can still stand when all it really wants is someone to shout ‘Food?’ and to call it a night. Odd watercolours of Manhattan hang between strips of peeling wallpaper, the buildings soft and pathetic. I look at his face, then rest my eyes somewhere on his legs. I start to trace the faint dogtooth pattern back and forth. It makes me sleepy.

His pen clicks again.


I look up. “No.”

He makes a line on his paper, then presses the nib on the next question. The ink bleeds into a little spot, disfiguring the first few letters of whatever word used to be there. “Ever snorted anything; long-time smoker–”

“No.” My teeth grapple my tongue. “I’ve never smoked, never taken drugs.”

He marks another line. “Have you bumped your head; been hit in the face?”

I release my tongue again. “No.”

“I’m sorry, Lucy.” He makes two more lines then puts the paper down. “I know this must be uncomfortable, but I have to ask these things.” He straightens his legs, the dogtooth wiggling. I trace the pattern again, quickly this time, as if my eyes were ghosts running to catch Pac Man. 

A silence swells between us. I keep my eyes moving.

“I'm afraid I don't know what to say.”

I breathe in. Thick air fills my lungs.

“I’ve never seen this in someone so young. I can refer you to a specialist–” he turns and presses some buttons on his keyboard. The sound is clumsy. “OK–” he turns back to me. “It’s a 250 day wait.”

My eyes stop chasing and I burst into tears.

Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash 

The Change Conspiracy

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these.

On my own, at least, without the pull of a sad £20 note waiting for me at the end. Because, this, the little patch of internet I found years ago, suddenly seems so small, so meagre, so pointless. I suppose it’s not surprising I’ve outgrown it. 
After all, in the glittering age of social media, what’s the point of anything if no-one knows you’ve done it?

And so, as the years pile up, so do our expectations. Expectations that get harder to reach, and impossible to quell. Expectations that make you feel like you’re not doing enough, not showing enough, not bettering yourself like everyone else. Because, of course, we have a ‘duty’ to post incessantly to prove how well we're doing.

Or seem to be doing.

I scrolled through Facebook on the morning of January 1st. I stopped after a few seconds. Clicked off my phone, threw it onto the carpet, and pushed my head back against the pillow. 2017 round-up posts, new year new me, dizzy with sparkling snapshots of how to perfectly complete your year. Selfie, group shot, fireworks. Filter, fanfare –


A few years ago, I was out celebrating new years’. Or, at least, that’s what it looked like. In reality, I had sat cross-legged in front of the mirror, hurriedly painted on makeup, pulled off my pyjama top and pushed down the neckline of something new in its place. I took a photo. I don’t remember the caption. I don’t remember the number of likes I got - none of the things I thought were important back then. All I remember from that night, when I sat in front of that mirror and wiped away the last of a gaudy red lip and glitter liner pooled in my tear ducts, is how I felt.

Alone. Desperately alone.

During that year, I had successfully submerged my head so deep into social media that I had made myself feel ousted from my generation, because I thought I was the only one not to be having the best time of their life that night. And looking back, I know I won’t have been the only one feeling that way. But instead of accepting that, I threw flames into the carnage, and added another dose of look how alone you are tonight onto Facebook, thanks to my photo.

What a way to start a new year. As a fraud.

As time goes on, I feel myself pulling away from social media. It seems less like a place to swap phone numbers to keep in touch, but now a marketplace where we trade intimate stories like currency.

And, with the start of the new year, I feel myself distancing even further.

Maybe I'm cynical. Because when I read those new year new me statuses, all I get is hyped-up faux-inspirational nonsense. I still say to myself at the start of every year, hell, at the start of anything I can tangibly relate to a ‘new beginning’, that it’ll be better, get better, work better. This time, it’ll be different. That I’ve learnt from it, it’s all an experience, and I 'appreciate' it all more now. But I’m done with experiences. The blood is running, pouring from lips and teeth and hair and there is no more experience to garner from the same damn thing.

And it’s hard, when you reach this point, to realise that you aren’t as in control of your future as you think you are.

I’m still making resolutions. But they’re private, and I suppose, selfish. They serve no-one but me and those closest to me, and are written in a diary – there’s not a letter of them on social media, not a glimpse of a line, and there won’t ever be. I won't be rounding up 2018 to assimilate my success - or lack thereof.

There is more to reap from a year than an image of some ticked boxes.

The beauty of life is that we're free to make our own choices. It’s not always up to us if they play out, but we can have a hand in persuading the future - but we don’t need to wait until the first of January to do that. If you’re that passionate about changing or chasing something, you can start now - just make sure you're doing it for yourself. And if you take anything away from this post, take this:

If you want to make changes, do them now - whenever now is - and do them for you. Don't lose yourself in the hunt for digital glory - there's more to life than a post brimming with 'love' from faceless strangers.

Image c/o Cherry Laithang, Unsplash

How To Start Again

In eleven days I will be twenty-four.
In four and three-quarter hours, it will be midnight, the sun falling from view in a dozy thirty. Five minutes and fifty-two seconds are left ticking by before my playlist switches track. There’s one cup of cold coffee on my bedside table.
Today was the first.
It’s been forty-one days of being inside, looking out. A spectator; not a participant. Somewhere in my twenty-three years and three hundred and fifty-four days, I lost my admission pass, dropped my ticket stub- I twisted up the receipt until it was just a balled mass of black on white.
Somewhere in those years, I gently, and all-at-once, let go of my mind.
And it’s strange. It’s strange how we are the puppeteers of our own thoughts, able to pull cords and tie knots in our own supplies of blood and air. How we have the ability to do everything and nothing, to live and breathe; to give up, and let go.
It’s strange how your own mind can play tricks on you. How it can become a separate entity, detached, and able to make you believe in the unnatural, the irrational; the inescapable.
And it’s terrifying when you begin to realise how your mind can push you. To dread sleep for fear of not waking; yet dread being awake because every second is like the last, plagued with irrational fears conjured by your own Machiavellian creation.
Where food is poison. Sleep is impossible. Minutes seem infinite. Shaking is constant. You don’t want to cry, and yet, at the same time, all you want to do is cry. Your eyes are open, but the nightmare doesn’t stop.
But today was the first.
Forty-one days. Behind layers of glass and brick, letting my eyes live the life I want. Watching the raspy pull of branches billowing above the footsteps of neighbours. Trapped behind a window with envy for their life, their purpose; their simple ability to leave their home.
But today was different. Today, the windows didn’t magnify the world. The glass didn’t encase me like a snowglobe’s orb, rooting my body thickly in place in plastic and ceramic and dull glitter. This time I wasn’t a motionless figure watching the outside dance in endless pirouettes, sixes and eights of tulle passing me by like the mist of affection in the arrivals lounge of an airport.
It’s been forty-one days of the ordinary seeming impossible. Of rooms feeling smaller. Tastes being clumsy and mismatched. Days where love feels claustrophobic. Support feels like failure. Where life feels like a trap.
Forty-one days where someone else’s mundane was my Everest.
I experience anxiety. I don’t suffer from it - it’s dripped into my chromosomes, melted into my blood and built up in the pigment of my eyes. I accept it as part of me.
Today was the first time in forty-one days I felt able to leave home on my own again.
And it was strange. Like stepping onto ice, and learning how to swipe your feet. My shoes felt odd. My arms didn’t know how to swing. I didn’t know where to look, and the sun seemed brighter than it should. But I was outside, and I was alone. Surviving. Breathing. Overcoming fear.
In eleven days I will be twenty-four.
And I’m still learning. How to live inside the body I have grown; how to shake someone’s hand firmly enough, how not to cry in public and how to turn around on a busy pavement when you know you’re walking the wrong way. I’m learning how to live with the thoughts that manifest in my head when something gets too much.
And if I have to accept that the next eleven, twenty, or fifty days are spent learning how to cope and start again, I will. Our feelings are fluid; our experiences eternal. Memories can be lost, but the muscle remains. I’m training myself to live in a world that is evolving faster than we can see.
Anxiety makes you believe the unbelievable. The impossible. The bang-your-head-against-the-wall stupid. But to you, it can seem as real as anything, as routine as a heartbeat. And if today I experienced my first steps again for a second time, I’ll learn how to start again.
I’m not ready to give up before my new chapter has even had a chance to begin.
Lucy Farrington-Smith, originally written for HuffPost Young Voices UK,Image credit Blake Lisk @ Unsplash
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