Feb 29, 2012 0 Share

Passing the Smell Test


Illustration of man taking a shower.
iStockphoto

In order to prevent welfare-reducing effluvia, we ask you to please reduce externalities (bathe) during exams.”

I walked into my graduate school classroom one fine evening to find that on the blackboard. 

Oh no—not again! 

Back then, I wasn't showering—or doing laundry—on a regular basis. In fact, I hadn't been since before I can remember. I knew that I had a “B.O. Problem.” I also knew that it was driving people away from me. And yes, I knew it was inconsiderate of me to expose others to that kind of smell. 

All in the same sense that pretty much everybody knows that smoking, scarfing down double cheeseburgers and chocolate doughnuts and never exercising are all Bad Ideas. If you know a healthy person, you know someone who doesn't stop with knowing the right things. Doing them kind of helps. 

You might be wondering: “Jeff, couldn't you smell yourself?” Unless I'd been dirty for a really long time—as in weeks—no. Like many Aspies, I have a very weak sense of smell. (For example, when I was a child, for a short time the local grocery store unknowingly sold spoiled cottage cheese. Unlike many other people, I didn't know it in time—and for years afterward I had a habit of carefully sniffing everything before I ate it.) 

And if you were one of those people who had the bad luck to be downwind of me, you probably wanted to ask “Jeff, <cough> couldn't you <cough> <cough> get around to jumping in the shower—or didn't you care?” Well, no I didn't care … not so much because I hated society or anything like that but rather because I was clinically depressed. And that meant it took a lot out of me some days just to get up and get on with my day. Making a daily or even semi-weekly appointment with Mr. Shower and Ms. Soap was beyond me sometimes. 

Depression, as you might have heard, is a common co-morbidity of AS. You see, when you go through life wondering when, not if, you will tick somebody off enough so they scream at you or worse, losing job after job, having no friends and certainly no dates, depression is a common result. (Not to mention a common cause of same—especially when it entails an “H2O allergy.”) 

Last but not least, not having any friends meant not having anyone close to me to notice I smelled like high heaven and call me out on it before it became a public scandal. 

So, in a nutshell, it just didn't occur to me that often that I needed to shower and wash. 

Of course, all of the above may be reasons—but still no excuses. Barring some kind of extreme medical condition, if you're not a hermit personal hygiene is not optional. It's a matter of basic consideration for others. (Conversely, it would also have been considerate—and much more productive—if under those circumstances someone had approached me privately instead of making passive-aggressive public announcements.) 

Many aspects of AS are like this. Being an Aspie often means doing certain things that really annoy others. And being a human means that once you know what the problem is, you do everything you reasonably can to reduce these annoyances. That's not just a matter of being nice—it also really helps you make friends, find good jobs and even get dates. 

PS: I've now been regularly showering for nearly 20 years!