Go Ahead, Call Me a Dumb Ass

I’ll admit, I’ve made a whole pile of mistakes over the past few years, the most galling of which has been trusting a certain individual to have my back during a very difficult period. Without wearing that one down to a nub, I do claim responsibility for it and all the others. However, I did something really stupid a couple of weeks ago and I’m still feeling the effects of it.

For the past 3 years, I’ve been taking a certain medication just to take the edge off. For the past couple of months, one of my big projects has been writing extensively about this type of medication and how its side effects can wreak havoc on those of us who have been taking it since it was introduced about 20 years ago. I think I know the details better than a physician at this point, including the names, manufacturers, side effects, everything.

Speaking of side effects, I got it into my head that I wanted to stop taking this medication and decided to wean myself off of it on my own. I made the mistake of thinking I knew enough to do it, but alas, I knew nothing.  The first week was not bad, but after 10 days, I was just about ready to swallow whatever was left in the prescription bottle. The side effects were prolific: dizziness, nausea, insomnia, inability to concentrate, and a general sense of dread that washed over me like sewage. Oh – and the destruction of my sense of smell. I think that side effect has shaken me up worst of all.

My schnoz is recovering slowly but surely. I actually had to take a break from any and all things scented, including shampoo and shower gel. Anything stronger than Ivory soap was an assault on my senses, and I’m still not able to sniff certain scents yet. It’s funny because this happened to me once before: when I was supposed to move to Toronto back in 2008 and was nabbed by the Canadian Border Mafia for supposedly attempting to “immigrate illegally” from the U.S. As much as this ailment alarms me, it amuses me that when the going gets tough, my sense of smell shuts down. How weird is that?

So, a little advice from me to you: never, EVER attempt to wean yourself off anything without help from a trained professional. I was so incapacitated at one point that I placed a call to my family doctor back in New York and cried to her about what an idiot I am. She was always really great to me, especially when things got tough. Talking to her made me feel much better, even though she was the one who wrote me my first prescription. It has helped me tremendously, but now I’m scared to death about what’s going to happen when I do try to properly stop taking this stuff.  I’m going to need many hands to hold, that’s for damn sure.

Here’s a Friday question for you (I won’t call it a poll because it probably doesn’t apply to everyone): Have you ever done something, or gone through a traumatic event that affected your sense of smell? My re-focused, inquiring mind wants to know!



  • Amy says:

    This past winter I had a bad cold and completely lost my sense of smell for 2 1/2 days. (I hadn’t used zinc spray–I already know not to use it.) I knew my sense of smell would almost certainly come back, but I couldn’t be 100% sure, you know? For such a perfumophile, I was more worried about not being able to smell/taste food than I was about the loss of perfume, as devastating as that would be. I love to cook–it’s a hugely satisfying creative outlet. Can’t imagine being a good cook without my sense of smell. Not to mention not being able to tell whether or not food had spoiled. Scary.

    I did have a strange side effect from going off a certain SSRI once–I had the “brain shocks” for three months. The experience is pretty much what you’d imagine–feels like a tiny electric inside your head. I’d love to know what actually causes the phenomenon. The weirdest thing was getting one mid-sentence–accompanied by a little pause and a blank expression. Yikes.

  • krizani says:

    Yikes, withdrawal from SSRIs or SNRIs is a freaking nightmare. I’ve done a lot of reading around on them too, as I’ve been prescribed them but never on one for more than a couple of months at a time – which is bad enough.

    Turns out that they are the most physically addicting substances known to man. Once they bind to receptors, which happens quickly, you’re in for a ride going off of them. Plus, with some of the newer ones you go into withdrawal between doses due to a very short half life. Cripes.

    However, it CAN be done – even if you have to have your doc write prescriptions that need to be compounded to reduce the dose steadily, SLOWLY, and safely.

    The last time, and I mean this is also the LAST time I’ll let this stuff pass my lips, was a scrip from, get this, a nationally known headache neurologist for my daily migraines. He told me to go off of Cymbalta cold turkey. So I did. I made it, but it wasn’t fun. Hang in there!

    I didn’t lose my sense of smell (fragrances help me stay sane, I swear – better than any prescription any day!) but my sense of taste was all wonky.

    And here’s a great resource I’ve found:


  • Ninara Poll says:

    I recall moaning about this at some point last year on here and/or NST, but a couple of years back I was switched by my GP to a different antidepressant (I had been taking Lexapro, was switched to Celexa) and, a few months later, started birth control pills (norethidrone/progestin based medication). Both changes actually altered how I perceive scent and how scent interacts with my body chemistry; in effect, I have twice lost the ability to both enjoy and successfully wear many of my favorite fragrances. I’ve been on antidepressants since fall 2000, and that switch was the forth or fifth change to my antidepressant I’ve had to make over the years, but was the first one that significantly messed with my senses and body chemistry; the birth control is the only other mediction I’ve taken that has messed with my schnozz and chemistry. On top of that, I’ve had to deal with lifelong chronic rhinitis and allergies, so I periodically deal with lessening of my sense of smell. I have no idea why I’m blabbing all of this about myself except to add to the general conversation. :P

  • Lilybug says:

    I have trouble breathing through my nose and it’s blocked at least a third of the time or preventing me from smelling or altering the way things smell and taste. It seems strange to me that I would have hobbies involving scents. But I love to smell. Oh, how numbing spells lasting more than a couple of days are.

    Re doctors and medications, I think sometimes you do have to take charge. I’ve had to come off almost every antidepressant I’ve ever tried alone because the doctors discount the side effects and pooh pooh my and my family’s thoughts on the matter. Classic example: prescribed Prozac for depression and quetiapine to sleep (my son was waking up all through the night, I’m a tired person anyway – who wouldn’t become withdrawn and irrational?). The quetiapine gave me a nasty hangover (read: I became even more irritable and unable to look after myself or others) and the Prozac still kept me awake at night. The psychiatrists and psychologist were very dismissive. I weaned myself, slowly, and showed a huge improvement (back to baseline with son anyway). My MIL (a very experienced psychologist) says Prozac is known to interfere with sleep patterns and she couldn’t understand why they ignored the concerns of family and patient like that.

    But what really gets me is that drugs (and there have been many) didn’t help me. HELP helped (childcare during day so I could SLEEP). I can understand that doctors might feel like drugs are the quick (and cheap?) fix but they are not always the most sensible. If a patient insists that, say, the depression is caused by lack of sleep (rather than the other way around) and that the treatment is far worse than the problem, why is it that so many doctors won’t listen and at least try to address the concerns or try a new plan?

    Change of subject: cracked open some vintage Fragonard gold canisters as they were evaporating (and I was curious). Man, they had the meanest foil seals! The plastic caps were a challenge too. No wonder only one had been opened.

  • Aparatchick says:

    Nava, you are not a dumbass. You tried something and it didn’t work. That’s happened to all of us – part of being human.

    And let me just mention Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for anyone who is interested in a focused, results-oriented approach to how we deal with our emotions. Obviously we are all different, and what works for one person may not be helpful to someone else, but CBT made a huge improvement in my life.

    Back on topic, I have the world’s worst sinuses. The fact that I’m allergic to animals but have a pet cat, work in a zoo, and volunteer at the humane society hasn’t helped. So once in a while I get sinus infections that make me completely lose my sense of smell. That’s when I realize why that sense is so important: if food’s gone bad, I don’t know it; if I left something cooking on the stove, I’d never smell the pan burning. Thankfully, these episodes have been brief and my sense of smell has always returned.

  • AnnieA says:

    Getting a cold or flu plunges me into despair, largely because I lose my sense of smell and can neither wear perfume nor eat anything with enjoyment. Sniff.

    • Nava says:

      Same thing happens to me. I once spent an entire week in Vegas not being able to smell or taste anything because I had such a horrendous cold!

  • MJ says:

    Not traumatic, but I got a horrendous head cold last year, and lost some range of my ability to smell. I was NOT using any kind of nose spray, nose zinc, anything – just all of a sudden I can’t smell anything in the “spoiled food” range. Not at all. Perfume, body odor, motor fuel, – I’m fine. Rotten veggies and slightly sour milk, nada.

    So hubs now has to sniff the fridge, and the milk for me. Maybe it will come back???

  • minette says:

    don’t know what you’re weaning yourself off of, but try to find a really good qi gong teacher – someone who can help you build your qi/chi as you go through the process. it will help in many ways. here we have a grandmaster monk from the shaolin temple in china who does medical qi gong, but there are medical qi gong practitioners in many places. they clear blockages and help you build your own energy, making you stronger and more balanced.

    when my thyroid went whacko several years ago (i believe too many dental x-rays by a stupid tech who couldn’t get it right triggered it), my sense of smell changed, and i could only stand to wear essential oil blends and very little to no perfume. took a few months for me to come back to regular perfumes. it was like my thirst for perfume disappeared for a while, then gradually returned. lately i’ve been preferring more quiet blends again, as i build my qi/chi.

    hope you find a way to feel great without the meds!

  • Austenfan says:

    An astonishing documentary that has it’s main focus on bipolar disorder but also addresses issues like prescribing mood-stabilizers to the very young is ” The Secret Live of the Manic-Depressive”. It’s by Stephen Fry, and I think one of the best things he has ever done. And I am a huge Blackadder and QI fan.

    I have never lost my sense of smell. I go off perfume when I am unwell. Especially if that involves a stomach bug or anything of the kind. Apparently not being able to smell at all is exceedingly detrimental to one’s mental health. Like seeing everything in black and white. ( and I mean that literally)

    • Nava says:

      Prescribing antidepressants to children is dangerous to say the least.

      Not being able to smell and taste anything is awful. So unsettling…

  • maggiecat says:

    Nava, I’d never call you a dumb-ass! Taking responsibility for our own health is a good thing – you just took it a little too far. I haven’t really had that kind of olfactory shut-down you describe, but I often have to take heavy-duty medicines for athritis, including steroids, which do tend to affect me in many ways. And I’ve also found that during certain stressful times in my life, I’ve craved certain scents – often lavender or neroli, lately jasmine – which might lend credence to aromatherapy. (during those times when I haven’t wanted to wear strong scents, lavender always worked for me – you might try it and see). Hope you feel better soon, and I wish you luck and applaud your honesty.

    • Nava says:

      Thanks, Maggie. It always lifts my spirits to know I have so many supportive fragrance friends. You hang in there as well. 😡

  • Tamara*J says:

    Was on Paxil about two years and it made everything much worse for me. I would be on this weird even keel,all emotions underneath and then when shit would hit the fan it would rise to the surface and freak me out. I would go ape shit. THAT scared me.
    So I did successfully wean myself off of them very slowly, I didn’t want to put them in my body anymore. It worked.
    Now all I’m addicted to and need are my RA and fibro meds.
    I get sickly if I miss a does of Tramadol which isn’t supposed to have any side effects? Also my Gabapentin and Mobic-if I start running low on my doses my symptoms flare up like crazy.
    It’s unsettling to think that I will have to stay on meds the rest of my life. My poor frikkin’ liver.
    I’m 35.
    As for losing your sense of smell that is truly a pit of hell for the likes of us.
    Thankfully ( I think) that only happens to me if I’m crying really hard and my sinuses swell up.
    I have bad dreams of not being able to breathe and sniff things.

    Hope things get better Nava dear. Take care<3

    • Nava says:

      I am so sorry, Tamara. Here’s hoping one day there will be better alternatives to these horrible meds. 😡

  • KirstenMarie says:

    What happens when your little brother is laying outside of a sand box, and hears his older brother say, “Look how hard I can hit this golf ball?” Why, naturally you lift your head up to look. Only to get smacked in the forehead with said golf club. A trip to the emergency room and cracked skull later, things seem like they are going to be ok.

    That was about 25 years ago, and my youngest brother still can’t smell. We mourn his loss of chocolate chip cookies, but he’s really good for taking out the garbage.

    • Nava says:

      That is at once so sad, yet so convenient. 8-|

      • Kirsten-Marie says:

        Don’t feel TOO bad for him. He’s 6’6″ and a personal trainer in God-like condition. Too bad he can’t smell the perfume on his GFs, but trust me, the boy doesn’t lack attention! He even comes with the cleft in his chin and amazing blue eyes. Not so fond of the current squeeze, though, so if anyone is interested in a 28-year old in Georgia, or knows someone who may be….

  • annie says:

    ANY & EVERY trauma & depression causes me to lose my sense of smell,entirely….I always can tell I’m getting better,when it returns,and,the joy I feel at that time is like no other….As always,hugs & squeezes to you!!(ahhhh,I forgot to mention,I’ve tried stopping meds,as you did,to disasterous results…ACK!)

  • Musette says:

    My then-hub was allowed to go off Prozac, cold turkey. What a disaster! 6’4″ giant, running around, screaming, breaking things. He refused to go to the hospital and didnt’ seem to be dangerous to anything other than his punching dummy and an old TV set. 11:45p: I got tired of all the noise and weirdness and locked him in the basement, a reverse Mrs Rochester. In the morning we went to a DIFFERENT doctor who was appalled that he’d leapt off into the abyss and got him back on Prozac so he could be properly weaned off. MUCH better.

    But that’s not what you asked. 8-|

    Re smell: I’ve got the wonkiest sinuses in Christendom so smell is always a crapshoot for me (my septum looks like an Escher staircase). I also carry a lot of stress in my shoulders and back and occasionally acupuncture or massage therapy will trigger anosmia. A chiropractor used one of those gun-thingies on my traps and calves and I couldn’t smell or taste anything for nearly a week. I’m used to it now, though the first couple of episodes were terrifying!

    xo >-)

    • Joanna says:

      Yikes to the cold turkey!!
      I’m not sure WTH medical professionals in general are thinking sometimes. Going cold turkey off some of these meds can causes withdrawl symptoms that can be as bad as those experienced by heroin addicts trying to quit.

      • Nava says:

        That is the one thing that should NEVER be attempted – cold turkey stopping of antidepressants. That experience sounded like it was terrifying, A. I’m glad you took a lesson from Mr. Rochester, though! 😡

    • tammy says:

      I think we had the same ex….was his name Rick?

      • Musette says:

        =)), tammy!

        Nava, I am going to sound like a hard-case but you know, it was more irritating than anything. He is a bit of a DramaMama to begin with and this was one of those ‘let’s let the Freak Flag FLY’ moments (NOT disrespecting the affects of cold-turkey stoppage, btw). There was a bathroom and a nice couch, etc down there – I figured he could freak out in privacy (again, I sound cold but I’m that way sometimes /:) ) and I could get some sleep. You know what I was REALLY worried about? What I would do to him if he kept waking me up with his craziness. 8-x I don’t do well with that kind of thing, hence the Reverse Rochester.

        xo the non-nurturing >-)

        • Austenfan says:

          You don’t sound cold just sensible. It doesn’t do to molly-coddle people, not even the mentally ill.

        • Aparatchick says:

          You want to sound cold? Try reading the phrase “reverse Rochester” and laughing out loud. When your husband asks what’s funny, tell him you’re reading about someone going off anti-depressants and being locked in the basement. That’ll get you quite the disapproving look. **hangs head in shame**

  • Patty says:

    I’m going through the same thing right now with a sinus infection – went to the doctor last week and am improving – but yes, it has affected my sense of smell. I didn’t wear perfume for two weeks, because why bother? I tested myself yesterday with some Aliage, and lo and behold, I could smell it! Gratefully dabbed myself with some. Unfortunately I tend to get these things about once a year, and they are a drag. Hope you are feeling better.

  • Catherine says:

    I send you my heartfelt wishes for a speedy recovery! xo

    Medications and me. We just don’t mix most of the time. I don’t know what is worse–going off or ON anti-depressants. At this point getting on them would be a DUMBASS decision. But you asked about smell. YES. About the time leading up to my discovery that my now ex-husband was having copious affairs, my smell went haywire and everything smelled of death. Really. Isn’t that something? Rotted flesh in the nose, yum yum.

    Hang in there, dearie!

  • Olfacta says:

    Years ago my father-in-law lost his sense of smell. It was attributed to an accident. No one apparently thought it might be due to anything else. Now, they realize that loss of smell can be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease, which he is in the last stages of. Not that much could have been done back then. But it is an important symptom.

  • Mrs.Honey says:

    My mother, who has had sinus trouble her whole life, lost her sense of smell in her 60s. I am determined not to suffer the same fate. Her experiences (she also developed asthma) have motivated me to stay in allergy treatment. I have no fear of needles, but few other things would encourage me to go to the doctor’s office every week for two years so far. The take away message for perfumistas is: Do anything you can to preserve your nose.

  • Debbie R. says:

    It doesn’t always go that badly. I’d been taught how to wean myself and have done so several times, successfully. It often takes the cooperation of the physician, tho, if the pills can’t be divided to get smaller dosages. So anyway, my point is this: there’s no way someone could call you stupid. Your expectations weren’t unreasonable, given all the research. It was just an unlucky fluke, I think.

  • JAntoinette says:

    A few months ago I had a sinus infection, but I didn’t realize that’s what I had because it started with a really wicked cough and no sinus-y symptoms. One night my husband poured me a nice glass of cab and I couldn’t smell it. I stuck my nose completely in the glass and then I panicked – running around the house smelling every flower and spice jar, spraying Bandit into the air and plunging my head into the cloud. Nothing. My husband was tempted to sedate me I was so hysterical. I must say I experienced a terrifying few days with the thought of a permanent loss of smell before I realized I had an infection. I have read that anosmia can lead to depression, loss of sex drive and even suicide so I have a special sympathy for those who are permanently disabled.

    • Nava says:

      Yikes! I’ve had a few really bad colds in my life that shut down my sense of smell and taste. Thankfully, they came back, but while they were gone, it was awful.

  • Jillie says:

    So very sorry to hear of what you’ve been through. If it’s any consolation, I have a couple of friends who have eventually been able to stop their anti-depressant medication, although it’s been a long haul for both.

    Several bereavements made me lose my sense of smell for a time. Maybe it was the physical act of crying (all that nose-blowing can’t have helped), but it also occurred to me that maybe I couldn’t bear to enjoy something like perfume when I should have been mnourning my loved ones and guilt stuffed my nose up. I guess the brain is so powerful it can switch things off sometimes.

  • Lisa D says:

    I smoked for about 20 years – so you can call me a double dumb ass – and it did indeed effect my sense of smell. Thankfully, it’s been years since I smoked, and my perfume habit has only gotten more intense now that I can really smell.

  • Meg says:

    Well, on the subject of dumbasses I just accidently deconstructed my A Taste of Heaven sample in an effort to see if I could refill it…yes I am an dumbass. Currently trying to salvage the rest of the contents.

    I have never lost my sense of smell but my boyfriend-soon-to-be-ex recently lost his sense of smell and taste in an accident resulting in a cracked skull. The taste came back and smell has in the way that he can identity odours but they all have the same dusty phantom-smell scent. It is odd.

    I’m in my early twenties and I have several friends who were perscribed very addictive medications at a very young ages. One of them has been dependant on anti-anxiety meds for over six years or so (how can that stuff be perscribed to 15 year olds?!) and I’m not sure how she will ever stop, but I have hope. How one signature can influence so much of another person’s life… When you do go off it I am sure you will have many hands to hold–or atleast, readers to rant to–on here.

    • Sherri M. says:


      Wow! Your comment does hit home. I was just talking to my local pharmacist this morning. She was upset because she had counseled a pregnant woman who was taking anti-depressants to get off the meds during her pregnancy. She said the young woman had refused, saying her doctor had said it was perfectly safe, and the baby had been born with cleft palate. She said the warning was on the meds; how can a doctor legitimately prescribe it?!

      • Joanna says:

        If the woman had serious mental illness issues where the doctor feared she could be a danger to herself or others if she went unmedicated then they would have advised her to not discontinue her meds. It’s sad the baby was effected like that though.

        • Nava says:

          Many doctors feel the benefits of antidepressants outweigh the risks, including for pregnant women. Paxil is one of the ones notorious for causing cleft lip/palate, but since it is such a common occurrence (1 in approx. 1,000 births), doctors should know better.

  • Joanna says:

    After the birth of my 2nd child I experienced severe postpartum depression that then evolved into postpartum ocd and postpartum psychosis. When I finally sought help the first medication I was given was Paxil and it not only made my symptoms worse it also caused other unwanted side effects and messed with my sense of smell. It varied from dulling my sense of smell to causing olfactory hallucinations, (Crazy stuff! I know!) Thankfully my doctor switched me to Effexor which not only helped me fully recover but didn’t cause me to have side effects like Paxil. Getting my sense of smell back and actually enjoying perfume and aromatherapy again was a pretty major part of me feeling better.

    I know that some people have the opposite reaction and do well on Paxil but can’t tolerate Effexor. Prior to my 2nd child I was a mental healthcare worker who distributed medication and had a lot of education in psychiatric pharmaceuticals. I think one of the, “Craziest” aspects of all of it is doctors don’t even know how or why some of the medications work they way they do…or who will have adverse reactions.

    I’m not sure which medication your experience was with but my experience as a patient instead of a mental healthcare professional changed my life. I left my job because I didn’t want to be part of drugging patients to the gills anymore. While I’m thankful for the part Effexor played in helping me recover I think all too often medications are over prescribed and misused.

    • Meg says:

      what an incredibly trying ordeal… your tenacity is pretty damn inspiring. I completely agree about over and misused perscriptions.

      • Sherri M. says:

        I agree 100%; all too often doctors want to just put a bandaid (antidepressants) on a problem rather than take a LITTLE TIME to listen carefully to the patient. There could be an underlying physical condition (e.g., thyroid condition) that needs addressed. Prescribing drugs (I’m not saying they’re sometimes not necessary) just creates another set of issues.

    • Nava says:

      Joanna, I’ve read countless articles over the past few months about mental health professionals who feel as you do. As a matter of fact, just this week there was a story about how antidepressants are the most prescribed drug in the U.S. right now. Scary…

      I started out taking Lexapro, and switched to Celexa. I’ve been OK for the most part, until I decided to try and wean myself off of it. Paxil is one of the scarier ones out there. I am so sorry about your experiences, but I will take inspiration from how hard you’ve worked to recover. 😡