Based on my research, people don’t react kindly when you tell them they smell. In fact, it seems to be the quickest way to evoke paranoia.
Technically, everyone smells. Whether it’s from a fresh shower or natural body oils, even the cleanest people have a scent. Just ask my poodle.
However, I am specifically referring to people who drown their bodies in fragrance: perfume, cologne, lotions, deodorant, and detergent. These fragrances can be life-threatening for people with mast cell disease. Just a few seconds of exposure can destroy my health for several days.
Although I try to stick to scent-free environments where people understand my fragrance disability, inevitably someone forgets or doesn’t care. When I was first diagnosed, I tried to be Minnesota Nice and avoid the offenders, but avoidance only left me with two choices: never leave my home or destroy my body. After months of puking, pooping, and gasping for air, I began confronting people.
3 ways to tell someone they smell:
- Yell “Skunk!” and run away
- Slap a Mr. Yuck sticker on them
- Start a game of “Duck, Duck, Smelly Duck”
“You smell” became my default declaration. Every time I sputtered those words, terror swept across the offender’s face, as if they were the one dying. I realize my delivery was not great. In my defense, it’s about all I could manage to say. When your body reacts to fragrance, your organs swell and your oxygen levels drop. Sometimes I become so confused that I forget to flee the room or take my medicine. I fumble for words.
“You smell” was never meant to be a personal attack. I hoped any embarrassment would convince them to respect the scent-free environment. It usually did not. They did not understand the long-term damage caused by their fragrances. I realized it’s easy to tell someone they smell, but it’s hard to explain the consequences.
When I say “you smell,” I mean you’re killing me.
Since my mast cell disease diagnosis four year ago, I have become braver about educating people about my fragrance disability. I have learned requesting scent-free environments is not selfishness. Spreading awareness does not just benefit me; it protects the health of other people with mast cell disease and conditions that cause fragrance sensitivities, such as migraine and asthma.
3 ways to tell someone they smell and it’s harmful:
- Hand them your EpiPen and say, “You might need this.”
- Write a passive aggressive blog post and send them the link
- Email, text, or talk to them after you recover from your reaction. Specifically explain how fragrance affects your body. For example, fragrance reactions can permanently damage my kidney. Probably try this option first.
Of course, you always run the risk of finding out someone is a complete jerk, who doesn’t care if you suffocate or lose an organ. There will always be that one person who suggests you “just wear a mask” without understanding masks don’t block fumes, but they do reduce oxygen flow. It’s best to avoid assholes, whether you have a disability or not.