simple explanations of interesting brain conditions

Desiring Disability: Body Integrity Identity Disorder

Chloe Jennings-White knew at age four that she wanted to live as a disabled person [1]. Today the Cambridge educated research scientist still believes that her legs do not belong to her, and dreams of having her spine surgically severed.

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For years Chloe has pretended to be disabled when alone, she’s even purposefully caused a number of accidents in the hopes of damaging herself. “My friends and family can get a little worried about me skiing” she says, “as they know I ski very aggressively and they know that in the back of my mind I actually want to get paralysed”.

Chloe isn’t alone in feeling this way, she is one of many people who suffer from Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID). People suffering from BIID feel uncomfortable in their own body, similar to those with Gender Dysphoria. They yearn for the amputation or paralysis of one or more of their limbs, sometimes even their eyes or ears.  It is not yet fully understood whether BIID is a psychological or neurological disorder, but these patients are not delusional; they fully recognize the strange nature of their wishes [2].

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Jewel Shuping, a woman from North Carolina, says by age six she would spend hours staring at the sun in the hopes of damaging her eyes [3]. At 18 she began to wear thick, black sunglasses and walked with a white cane. By 20 she was fully fluent in braille. Then, in 2006, Shuping found a psychologist willing to pour drain cleaner into her eyes, fulfilling her desire to become permanently blind.

BIID obviously raises a lot of ethical questions; not many surgeons are willing to amputate a perfectly healthy limb. Yet studies show that patients who have had their wishes granted find their BIID symptoms alleviated and feel genuinely pleased with their decision [4]. Indeed, no pharmacological or psychotherapeutic treatments have proved effective at all [2], so it really does seem as if the only way to help these people is to grant them their wishes.

Fun fact; a study on 52 people with BIID found that 87% of patients felt sexually drawn to amputees [5]. Acrotomophilia is the term used to describe an erotic interest in amputees, while apotemnophilia describes an erotic interest in being or looking like an amputee. The two conditions often occur together.

References

All images produced by the author unless otherwise specified.

  1. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2366260/Body-Integrity-Identity-Disorder-Chloe-Jennings-White-58-disown-legs.html
  2. Dijk, M. T., Wingen, G. A., Lammeren, A. v., Blom, R. M., Kwaasteniet, B. P., Scholte, H. S., & Denys, D. (2013). Neural basis of limb ownership in individuals with body integrity identity disorder.PLoS One, 8(8)
  3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/woman-arranges-for-psychologist-to-pour-drain-cleaner-in-her-eyes-after-fantasising-about-being-a6676546.html
  4. Blom, R. M., Hennekam, R. C., & Denys, D. (2012). Body integrity identity disorder.PLoS One, 7(4) doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.otago.ac.nz/10.1371/journal.pone.0034702
  5. Khalil, R. Richa, S. (2012). Apotomnophilia or Body Integrity Identity Disorder. Volume 11, Issue 4. DOI: https://doiorg.ezproxy.otago.ac.nz/10.1177/1534734612464714
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