I originally started writing this article when I was in the midst of the problem (despair might sound a bit dramatic here, albeit not completely untrue), and quit writing it halfway through. I don’t know if the underlying problem still exists (I imagine it does) but it’s not something I think about too often. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever share this, but I kind of liked the writing and it could possibly help somebody. We all have our problems, this is one of mine.
What are they feeding you?
I need to get something off my, umm, feet.
I would warn this post could possibly be too much information (TMI), but to warn of something being TMI on a personal website is a bit ridiculous. It’s certainly personal and informational, whether or not it’s too much is up to you. With that being said, I have a problem, a rather embarrassing problem, a body image problem – my feet stink (or at least I think they do)!
I don’t particularly know when, why or how it started, but I don’t like it and now it’s all I can think about. It’s all consuming. It’s not just in the back of my mind, it’s in the forefront and everything else is secondary.
Perhaps you’ve experienced a personal problem that completely overtook your thoughts, or perhaps not, but it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine how mentally exhausting it is to think about something all the time.
For what could possibly be the first time ever, I saw a very relevant post on Facebook recently.
A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”
Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”
Not only does this problem affect me, but it affects everybody around me – and I feel bad. Anybody who’s ever had a body image issue can relate to the feeling of everybody focusing in on your problem, imaginary audience or not.
The problem with odor is that it doesn’t stay confined. It blows, it wafts, it floats, or as I imagine it in my case, it forms a thick slow-moving cloud of funk waiting for another unsuspecting nose to assault.
If I hear another sniff – that goddamn sharp sniff, that tell-tell sign of nostril-offending contact, oh that motherfucking sniff – as I pass somebody, or vice versa, I might actually crumble into a million tiny pieces. A million tiny pieces that surely will not smell pleasant.
Honestly, I want to punch that person directly in their nose; trickling blood ought to stop some smell from penetrating. But it’s not their fault, it’s my fault, or rather it’s my body’s fault.
At this point, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Why don’t you just shower and wash your clothes? You know, personal hygiene and stuff.’
Well that is a great fucking idea. I would have never thought about that, thank you for that fine suggestion. I salute you, sir.
If only it were that easy.
People blaming hygiene is simultaneously understandable and funny – ridiculously funny. It’s certainly understandable because a wide range of offending odors are culprits of poor hygiene and easily solvable. It’s funny because I wonder if people honestly think I just gave up on personal hygiene. Like I woke up one day and said, fuck it – that’s just not for me.
Since you’re now wondering; I shower everyday – twice on most days (with antibacterial soap), I only wear clean clothes – jeans and shoes being the only exceptions (it’s not great for denim to be washed too often, although I don’t wear the same jeans or the same shoes two days in a row), I use antiperspirant/deodorant, and cologne.
I’m not taking hygiene lightly here folks. Oh yeah, I wipe my own butt too (although I’m not completely unconvinced that’s not a problem as well.)
In fact, preventative measures are just increasing the amount of time I spend incorporating personal hygiene. I’ve tried countless home remedies, various foot soaks, shoe insoles, powders and supplements, their effect is unclear at best, detrimental at worst.
Here’s the kicker, I can’t smell it.
Every once in a while I get a stiff whiff, but other than that it’s based solely on the reactions of other people, and believe me, there are a lot of reactions.
The same brain that’s causing me think about this problem endlessly has decided there’s no reason to keep smelling it.
I can’t count the times I’ve smelled my socks, shoes, and clothes after wearing them. I can smell normal body odor mixed with ineffective deodorant, 8-hour-old cologne, and leather mixed with the remedy du jour.
No wretched sour cheese or month-old gym socks of a giant, which I imagine everybody else experiences.
I’ve enlisted my sister on an aggressive sniffing campaign, but her usually observant olfactory system is failing to provide any evidence.
That’s good, right? Oh silly you, you’re forgetting about those others’ reactions. The gym, tumbling, Taekwondo, work, stores, the location doesn’t matter, there will be reactions.
This is the point in which I stopped writing originally. From here on out it should be less depressing and angry, and more reflective.
You may not be a bed of roses
Here’s the problem with relying solely on the reactions of others – it might not be about you. They could have a cold; sniffles sound exactly like that soul-crushing sniff you’ve become accustomed to hearing. They could have smelled something funky, but completely unrelated to you. Or here’s a thought, they could just be going about their daily lives unbeknownst to any problem you might be having. Who knows, maybe they think they smell.
Although I spent countless hours (countless being only a slight exaggeration) Googling my “problem,” I couldn’t get the nerve to talk to anybody else about it.
From here on out, I’m going to refer to it as my “problem.” And while the underlying issue may or may not actually exist, I certainly had a problem – although it was more mental than physical. And just because something isn’t “real” to others, doesn’t make it devastatingly real to that person.
My oldest sister and I are pretty close and she lives in the same town, so she was easiest to broach about it. Once I brought it up, I continued to bring it up…nearly every time I saw her. Her opinion remained the same – either I was imagining it or had something wrong with my nose. My ever-honest niece said I smelled like I normally do, which to her meant my cologne.
At the time those answers sounded like a brushoff. A consolation prize for losing at life.
Unbeknownst to me, my sisters talked about my “problem,” so when I brought it up with my other sister she didn’t seem too surprised. However, she lives two hours away and was unable to confirm or deny its existence. She did urge me to go see a doctor, which for most physical ills I’m more than willing to do, but imagining making an appointment because “I smell” seemed utterly ridiculous. That sister, who happens to be a RN assured me that she hears more ridiculous things on a daily basis.
Still unconvinced to make an appointment, I happened to have a yearly physical coming up, which seemed like the perfect time to approach the subject with my doctor.
I had my list of questions and concerns; I was prepared. When appointment time came, I completely glossed over the issue. I briefly mentioned it and moved on.
However, when the nurse called to follow up, I gathered enough nerve to be like “yeah, that problem I briefly mentioned…it’s completely consuming my life.”
The nurse assured me that she didn’t smell anything in the small examination room, and my doctor “who usually had a strong sense of smell” didn’t make note of any malodor. Slightly relieved. I made a follow-up appointment to further investigate.
I would say long story short, but at this point it’s long story longer. The underlying issue is that in the past year I started sweating more than normal. Apparently this is rather common – it’s called hyperhydrosis…and it’s fucking annoying.
Several doctor visits (including a specialist) confirmed I had nothing physically wrong which caused me to start sweating more, it’s just something that happened. Great. However, every doctor’s appointment made me feel slightly relieved about my odor concerns as each time it was refuted.
Once I started opening to one person, it became easier to talk about it with other people. As it turns out, a lot of my friends and family have problems with excessive sweating as well. And not a single person I had the nerve to ask, said that I smelled bad.
Now it’s just something I deal with instead of obsessing over.
So as to not seem even crazier, I won’t go into detail of how depressing this time was; I’ll just say that an already introverted person beginning to completely fear social interaction is not a good thing. It’s a bad thing. Very bad.
It’s not your fault
Consider this the section where an ex-addict gives you advice they wish they had received before giving a homeless man a handjob for a delicious hit of crack.
If you’re having a problem talk to somebody. No matter how embarrassing you think it is, there’s surely something worse. Don’t bottle it inside.
If the problem is physical go see a doctor. Again, even if you think it’s embarrassing it’s worth getting checked out. Something embarrassing could be a sign of something major, or it could be nothing at all.
Don’t blindly Google symptoms; don’t self-diagnose. All those hours of Googling led me to diagnose myself several times. So much available information is both a blessing and a curse. Trust the experts, not anonymous sources of information.
Relax, don’t over think things. I am a notorious over thinker, so it’s not surprising my brain took it to obsessive mode. Thinking about something relentlessly doesn’t help, it often hurts.
If you’re more than an acquaintance with somebody and they are having odor issues – tell them. In a nice way. Privately. “You smell like shit, bro.” isn’t going to help anybody. Don’t talk about them behind their backs. Don’t make passive-aggressive statements around them. You never know the fragility of somebody’s mental state. If I ever have a problem, I hope somebody would afford me that courtesy.