Possible Medical Condition or Something Inexplicable

Hello CFI. I’m worried about a possible delusion / medical condition I experience every once in a while but before I get medical or psychiatric help, I thought I would open up a topic and see what you have to say. I have been experiencing what I believe to be olfactory hallucinations for most of my life but they’re typically accompanied by instances of strange visual hallucinations that place me in a different place and time. It begins with the phantom smell and it lingers after I get the image and feeling of the place. My most recent episode happened when I was doing the dishes. I smelled something unfamiliar (not soap, not bleach etc.) and I got the image of dark, damp subway tiles and this distinct feeling that I was in the 90s. I can’t explain it any other way without sounding like I’ve lost my marbles. It was a complete dissociation from myself and my environment and it didn’t last for more than a few seconds. Afterward, I felt confused as I typically do. Not disoriented, just weirded out. I looked up “Phantosmia” but I don’t really share any of the characteristics. The smells aren’t the following, described in Medical News Today:

  • burnt toast
  • burning rubber
  • cigarette smoke
  • a chemical or metallic smell
  • a spoiled or rotting smell
  • a stale or moldy smell
The smell is more like when you first enter a place unfamiliar to you. It hits your senses. It's typically not just one smell but the intermingling of multiple. When I had the above episode, I smelled rainwater, dirt, must, the perfume in the wool of my coat. It's not at all like thinking you smell something off, cigarette smoke that isn't there, rotten eggs. It's much more complex and therefore difficult for me to explain. The experience is tantamount to smelling something familiar and getting a memory associated to that but it's a distant memory and you can't quite get all the details of it. They haven't just occurred in my home, but they've also occurred in the library at my college, at my work. I've talked to loved ones about it because it scares me. I don't have nasal polyps, chronic sinus infections, epilepsy, head trauma, migraines, Parkinson's disease (though this does run in my family, I'm in my early twenties and I don't have any of the other symptoms). I'm never upset/stressed when this happens, and they've happened when I've been preoccupied and idle. I am on medication for depression: Citalopram 20mg but I have not always been when these olfactory-visual hallucinations happened. They've been present since I was a child and it's beginning to feel like I have two possibilities: I'm experiencing things that may develop in intensity as a neurological disorder, or this is something more inexplicable. I've seen words like "clairscent" thrown around but I honestly don't know how I feel about that.

I’m a fairly skeptical person and I’m also not the richest. I can’t really afford to go to the doctor on a whim without attempting to gain insight elsewhere first. Any suggestions you bring up will be thoroughly investigated by me. Any help would be appreciated.

This is ONLY a possibility S, so take it for that. Seizures are sometimes accompanied for some people by an aura or even scents. Obviously, you are NOT having grand mal seizures, but people can have subclinical seizure activity in their brains. This could manifest as a sense of disassociation or other perceived manifestations, even if one never has intense enough seizure activity to lose consciousness.

I suppose the danger for you might be if you experienced the disassociation while doing something else that would be precarious, like driving, for instance. But, at least you have the warning of odd smells.

If it is subclinical seizure activity, a visit with a neurologist at some point is in order. (Also, I am not advocating CBD as a treatment, but Charlotte’s Web concentrated oil, taken orally, is a strain of marijuana that has been used with young children with very severe seizure disorders, because it has virtually no THC and thus no “high” effect. I say this as I understand that it is legal in some states.)

You should consult a medical professional. You can start by just describing your symptoms to an MD. Many times you can call your local hospital or doctor’s office and get a free consultation with a nurse. It won’t be an actual diagnosis, which cannot be done over the phone, but it should give you some idea. In the end, talk to your doctor. If it’s something serious early diagnosis may be key to successful treatment.

Well it’s been happening since he was a child, so early detection seems out. It sounds neurological to me. He has limited financial resources. My guess is that the med professional that he should see is a neurologist.

Well, earlier detection, anyway.

Low blood pressure can cause some weirdness too. Pretty sure that I had that before Mrs Salt and I fell deeply in love. I had some strange shit going on when I was young. I thought the house was falling over once because my balance just went haywire for a second. Another time I was talking to a girl in church and my hearing just faded out until I was completely deaf, then faded back in. She was still talking when I could hear again, so the look of confusion and terror on my face couldn’t have been as bad as I had thought it was.

But the one that takes the cake was complete, spontaneous, total amnesia. It happened once and it was amazing. I woke up and immediately dressed and got in the car to go to a friend’s house. 3 or 4 blocks down the road I forgot everything. And I do mean absolutely everything. Not just where I was going or who I was, I lost it all. Language, pattern recognition, concept of reality, motor control, the works. I was like a newborn baby behind the wheel of a car. I remember my head flopping to one side as I turned it to look at the patterns of colors going by. I did not know ground from house from sky from stop sign. Then it call came back to me as quickly as it went (before the stop sign, thankfully). You cannot imagine how peaceful that was. No worries, no desires, no fears, no regrets, no thoughts at all, nothing but changing colors to marvel at.

BP should be easy enough to check regularly, and during an episode.