My Week of Seven Senses

All we humans have “conditions” to bear. Circumstances to survive. Though I’ll grant you, mine may be one of the weirdest.

My Week of Seven Senses
Photo by jesse orrico / Unsplash

by Alex Horn

Each day of the week, I lose a different one of my senses.

I suppose I should count myself lucky: at least I only lose one sense at a time. But I don’t feel so very lucky. Every morning when I wake up, the sense that was gone yesterday is suddenly back — but in its place, I’ve lost a new one. This leads to a terrible sense of incompleteness. It’s perpetual. I never get to feel whole, anymore. But I guess a lot of people feel like that, in their own way. My condition just makes it really hard to ignore.

If you think that my situation sounds horrid — hey, I won’t argue. But remember: odds are, your life would seem pretty horrid to me, too. Don’t think you’re special, either. Even the happiest lives are their own brand of horrible. All we humans have “conditions” to bear. Circumstances to survive. Though I’ll grant you, mine may be one of the weirdest.

It’s an old curse in our family. Been that way for generations. Not for everyone, though: only youngest sons and eldest daughters. Well, I’m my parents’ youngest son, on account of being their only son, and their only child too.

Even before my curse kicked in, being an only child made me feel like a misfit. A higher percentage of kids in the U.S. live with a sibling than with either a mother or a father — and here I was, with two parents, but no brothers and no sisters. How could I feel like anything more than an outcast, growing up, as I floated from year to year as a singleton, amidst the endless pairings of two’s and three’s? These days, though, I think it’s maybe just as well that I’m an only child. If I’d had an older sister, she would have had the condition too, and that would have been terrible. Or if I’d had an older brother, he wouldn’t have shared it, and that might have even been worse.

The condition comes out when a person reaches adulthood — though what that means varies for each person. My Aunt Frida started experiencing it when she was sixteen, the same day she found out she was pregnant. Her daughter, my cousin Wanda, first encountered her curse on the day of her eighteenth birthday. For me, the curse didn’t begin to manifest until I was twenty-two-and-a-half, shortly after I graduated college. I knew already that I was destined to have it, but somehow it still came as a shock. I guess I’d been hoping the day would never come.

I’d acquired a job as a translator for a sales company, interpreting both sides of phone calls. I’d never been a good student, but I spoke three languages passably well, and that was enough to get me hired. I must have done pretty well in my early months with the company, because even after my disability manifested, and I started missing half of every week, they gave me a surprising number of months before they fired me. I suppose they were hoping I might recover. But some things you don’t recover from. Even if you go right on living — and you usually do — you never do recover.

I could tell you of my first week with the condition, or of the terrible weeks of denial and confusion that followed. I could tell you about losing my job; losing my friends; losing the will to go on. I could tell you of my diagnosis, and of its aftermath: those early, bad times that followed it. But I don’t think that would do either of us much good. And in truth, I don’t think you should ask that of me. I know that’s probably what you want to hear: everyone does. People love a good origin story. But I’m more than where I came from: I’m also where I am.

Discovering my condition was a trauma: but what happened after the trauma has been merely my life. So instead of discussing those angry, early times, I’m going to take you through my routine these days. The nature of my condition encourages me to fall into a set routine — and, rather than fight it, I’ve taken steps to make that routine as comfortable as possible. This is something I learned from my Aunt Frida — who is not the wisest person I know, but certainly the wisest who shares my condition —and it has served me well.

On Mondays, I lose my sense of smell. This, as you might imagine, is my easiest day: I don’t enjoy my coffee as much as I do otherwise, but besides that, I’m good to go. On Mondays, I can almost feel average. Like a kid again. Healthy and whole. These days, I work freelance, so I basically set my own schedule, but I always make sure to work extra long hours on Monday. It sets me up well for the week.

On Tuesday mornings, I wake up once more able to smell the coffee; but now I’ve lost my sense of hearing. Temporary deafness isn’t as bad as it sounds, really: sometimes, the quiet helps me concentrate. And since my work— mostly copywriting and translation services — is mostly solitary, it’s easy enough to not schedule myself any calls on Tuesdays, so I don’t have to explain it to anybody.

Still: that’s not to say that it’s easy. Every time Tuesday rolls around, I find myself missing my music, and my Youtube videos, and the sound of another person’s voice. I’m not a very socially inclined person, but I try to force myself to interact with friends and family on a semi-regular basis. Never on Tuesdays, though. I’ve taught myself some sign-language, but almost no one I know knows any, so it’s basically useless to me. Tuesday evenings, I usually watch foreign films. The kind I’d have to watch with subtitles anyway. Then I don’t feel like I’m missing much.

Wednesdays are the worst. My hearing comes back, but that’s not any relief. On Wednesdays, I lose my sense of touch. It’s not safe for me to do much of anything, not even move: one time I tried, and without any sense of feeling, I ended up breaking my ankle. So I’ve come to spend all my Wednesdays trapped in bed, staring at the ceiling. Even this approach isn’t foolproof: once I dislocated a vertebra in my neck while relocating my head on the pillow. So now I do my best not to move at all. The boredom isn’t so bad — there is endless diversion to be found inside one’s own head, if one thinks hard enough — but the thirst is torture. But even if I could somehow get myself to a water bottle, I wouldn’t dare to drink from it. Without any sense of feeling in my throat, I could easily end up drowning myself.

When I wake up Thursday morning, the first thing I do is get a drink. I never enjoy it, though, because on Thursdays, I lose my sense of taste. On the whole, though, I actually appreciate Thursdays. I always make myself eat healthy foods on Thursdays, salads and quinoa and wheatgrass and sprouts, since I can’t taste them anyway, and this consumption is a very easy source of virtue. There’s something very odd about eating when you can’t taste a thing. It reminds you of how very mechanical the whole process is: the chewing and the swallowing. It makes me feel like one of the kitchen appliances.

“I guess I’m just a machine,” I muse to my bowl at the breakfast table. “A machine built to process oatmeal.”

I always try to round out the work week nicely on Thursday, because on Fridays I lose my sense of sight, and going blind rather dampens my productivity. Not as much as you’d expect, though. Premium dictation software has gotten scarily good, and so I can do my writing and translating work just as well blind, though not as quickly. Thursdays are also my best day for being social, although my disability makes dinner parties about as unengaging as you’d think.

I don’t go out on Fridays. I use a cane to help me get my way around the house, but I don’t think that’s good enough to go outside. Many times my Aunt Frida has encouraged me to get a seeing eye dog: she has one herself, since she goes blind too, though on Thursdays. But I’ve never been able to bring myself to get a pet of any kind, let alone a seeing eye dog. For one thing, my condition would take a lot of explaining, to the dog people. But that’s not the real reason. The idea of getting a dog scares me, on levels I cannot explain. I’ve never had a pet before. My parents wouldn’t let me get so much as a hermit crab. I was an only child in every sense of the term.

On Saturdays, I lose my sense of humor. I always think that this is funny — I mean, I think it’s funny on all the other days of the week besides Saturday. On Saturdays, I just find it ironic. It seems all too fitting that I should lose my sense of humor on the one day set fully aside for recreation. It’s a shame, because I love comedy, and Saturday should be my time to watch it. But for me, watching comedy on a Saturday is like taking a shower with a poncho on: nothing gets through, and you end up wondering why you bothered. Humor is such a big part of my own internal monologue that I never feel quite like myself on Saturdays. But that’s alright. You don’t always want to be you. No one does.

Sundays are my wild card days. For that reason, they’re a source of anxiety. Randomness always is. I may be blind on Fridays — I may be totally incapacitated on Wednesdays — but I fear Sundays more than anything. They are utterly unpredictable, and yet they come every week. It’s a terrible thing: when you see something coming, and have absolutely no idea what it is or will be. All the worst of both worlds.

I lose a different sense each Sunday.

Sometimes I lose something not so important. Losing my sense of direction isn’t so bad. I don’t go out so much anyway, and when I do, Google Maps can still guide me.

Losing my sense of equilibrium is much worse: on those days, I usually end up falling over, nauseatingly dizzy, feeling the fluid swish ineffectively around my inner ear.

Even worse is when I lose my sense of perspective. Without perspective, every negative aspect of my life becomes overblown, as though magnified by carnival-mirror proportions. On these days, I become horribly depressed, and tend to spend most of the day procrastinating, despite all my other senses and faculties being whole. I don’t have the best of perspective even at the best of times, but that makes it harder to lose what little I had to begin with. You always, I’ve found, miss the things most that you don’t have enough of.

The worst days, though, are when I lose my sense of empathy. My life, all by itself, is horribly depressing. I don’t say that like I’m special: most lives are. That’s why people stay together. That’s why I write my friends letters — even on Fridays, when I’m blind, and have to dictate them. That’s why I visit my Aunt Frida on Thursdays, and eat her cookies — even though I have no sense of taste on Thursday, and cannot taste the cookies, and even though Aunt Frida is blind on Thursdays, and cannot even see me when I visit. The cookies are besides the point. So’s the seeing. It doesn’t take seeing to really see.

When I lose my sense of empathy, I lose my ability to relate to others. I become a shallow, hateful person. Everyone and everything seems terrible — including me. Because once I can’t see the good in others anymore, it becomes just as hard to see it in myself.

On Sundays like that, there’s nothing to do but ride it out. That’s the point of a routine, really. Every day, you ride it out until tomorrow, and if you keep doing that, another week will go by. You’ll find yourself right back where you started, and yet you’ll be somewhere totally new.

Some days are terrible. Some days are really, really bad. But if you just ride it out until tomorrow, there will always be another day. Every Sunday has a Monday morning. And sure: Mondays can suck. They can suck worse than Sundays. Tuesdays can be worse than Mondays. But at least they always come.

Right now, it’s a Monday morning, and I’m sitting at my desk, sipping my scentless coffee. Since today’s a simple loss-of-smell day, I’ll be working long hours, trying to set myself up right for the week. Around lunchtime, though, I think I’ll take a stroll around the garden and stick my nose in the flowerbeds. I won’t be able to smell the flowers, of course. Not today. But I can still walk up and sniff them, like anyone else, if I want to. No one and nothing can stop me doing that.

Alex Horn is a writer from South Jersey. He studied Creative Writing at Columbia University. His fiction has previously appeared in Across the Margin. He spends his free time watching ice hockey and reading Haruki Murakami (though not at the same time). Check him out on Twitter at