Salt and chilli were my friends. They are detected on the taste buds as is sweetness and savoury umami. My poor heart went through a hammering as I piled salt onto everything, ate tonnes of crisps, and added chilli flakes and Tabasco sauce to my meals throughout the day. But how bored and frustrated I got having to explain to people the difference between tastes and flavours. On repeat – no one seemed to get it.
Taste buds detect salt, bitterness, sweetness, sourness, umami. These have nothing to do with the infinite array of flavours in the world of food and drink. An array which had just disappeared from my world. It was heart breaking and soul destroying. My love of food and drink had been taken away in one fail swoop. Out of my control.
As for smell, perhaps the sense we take most for granted, I never shall underestimate it again.
Reintegrating into the big, bad world after being holed up alone at home, feeling every aspect of the virus riddle my being, was difficult. No one understood. Fatigue and depression were easy enough to explain and people, on the whole, could be sympathetic to these symptoms. But this sensory loss. That was, and still is, very different.
Returning to work after a three week recovery period, too short I found out with hindsight, I was greeted with lots of questions. The virus was still quite new, not many people had direct experience of it at that point. How unaware we were of the prolonged nature of it that was to come.
When I told those who asked about my symptoms, one comeback was “Yes but have you got any of the serious ones?” Like loss of breath or chest problems.
“I've lost two of my senses! It feels pretty serious to me. Can you imagine all of a sudden not being able to see or hear?” Blank expressions, uncomfortable silences. No, people couldn't imagine.
I felt alone and distressed in equal measure. And then, intense pain around grief and loss reared its head. Knocking the wind out of my already battered sails and making me feel sick to the stomach. Loss I'd experienced 4 years previously, that I'd buried and locked away in order to be able to survive and turn my life around. All of a sudden, it was there tapping me on the shoulder. First, a whisper in my ear “Hey, remember me?” then it got louder and louder, more urgent. Needing to be dealt with. There were lots of tears, a physical reaction which I couldn't ignore. It affected my relationship with my boyfriend, my friends and family. It was impossible to explain and I knew I needed to act. So I sought counselling help. She was kind and intuitive. Let me talk and cry. Talking about loss and grief is hard work, gruelling. I endured it for 6 sessions then decided enough was enough.
This was something I had to learn to live with. And so I have.
Two years after Covid got me, I can smell and taste a lot more again. However, Mini Cheddars, Quavers, Wotsits, all the cheesy snacks still taste of nothing at all. Cake is just sweet, sugary sickliness. If there is chilli in anything that's all I can detect. As soon as some flavours started to return, about a year ago, I quickly found out peppers were hideous, bitter things that I needed to avoid. Gorgeous, sweet red peppers used to one of my favourite things to eat. Most vegetables are still pretty bland but I make myself eat them because I have to. Red meat is pointless unless I need an iron fix.
Chicken wings bring me joy they way they always have as does Thai food, both reminding me of happy times and places even though I can't taste them properly. Single Malt Whisky is, thankfully, more than just fire juice now and I can just about tell the difference between red wines again. Bizarre things like savoy cabbage and pumpkin bring me more joy than they ever did pre-Covid. They are sweet and have a lovely texture.
I still have to field thoughtless questions and comments and do more avoidance of certain situations than I used to.
My resilience has been invaluable to this point and I am grateful for the people I have in my life who know how much it can still hurt. To have had a great pleasure taken away in a brutal, sudden way then slowly replaced with a weirder, much less satisfactory version. It still catches me off guard. I get excited about eating something then one mouthful in, realise it tastes of very little. But a month ago I smelt a rose for the first time in almost two years. And the scent of my boyfriend's skin is back which I missed immeasurably. I still cannot smell most things in nature which makes me sad and disconnected. And cooking is only done when I feel up for it.
Will it ever be the same again? I have no idea. I have changed and I have to roll with that. The biggest thing I have learnt is that I will never take my senses for granted again.