If you passed Nick O’Halloran on the street, balancing on his crutches, you would assume that he only has one leg.
But in fact, 29-year-old Nick from Edinburgh is a fully able-bodied man who wants to one day have his right leg amputated.
He admits, ‘I’d like it to be amputated, that’s what I perceive to be my end goal.’
And he’s not the only one. Nick is amongst a very small number of people living in the UK who are believed to be suffering from Body Integrity Identity Disorder. The condition can manifest itself in a variety of ways ranging from sufferers wanting to be paralysed or become blind.
Nick explains, ‘BIID is shortened for Body Integrity Identity Disorder which is a condition where the brain doesn’t recognise an aspect of the body.’
‘I can tell you exactly where it stops being ‘my body’ – three inches below my right hip. After that it’s just not me.’
‘It manifests in an itch similar to someone who is growing an extra limb. It does not belong there.’
‘I think I’ve always felt this way, but I think when I was younger I just couldn’t put it into words.’
Currently, the UK health service does not recognise BIID as a medical diagnosis, and instead Nick has been diagnosed with OCD. Although he is currently taking medication and undergoing treatment for his OCD, Nick is still determined to one day have his leg amputated.
Nick says, ‘I have tried myself a few times by injecting medical grade alcohol into the limb. There was intense pain, more pain than I anticipated, as you could actually feel the alcohol dragging up the muscles. There was a sense of a feeling of success as I couldn’t move it but after 8 hours it was fine.’
‘I got put in contact with a man who was regarded as what’s called a gate keeper and he knows names of surgeons who are willing to do the amputation for a set fee. And what they would do then is give you documentation to say it was an accident.’
‘I paid this guy in total just shy of £20,000 and it turned out to be a massive scam.’
‘Last year I was in a very dark place and it culminated in me trying to jump in front of a train. I think what lead me to feel like this is the sense of isolation and alienation, not being able to talk to anyone and constantly having to put on a mask.’
In an attempt to deal with his condition, Nick likes to ‘pretend’ that his right leg does not exist. He does this through bending his right leg, covering it in a bandage and then strapping it into the leg of his jeans to give the appearance of a stump.
He says, ‘In terms of pretending I try to do it at least once a day, if not longer.’
‘I feel a lot better and I get to see myself how I would be or should be rather than as I am.’
Currently, psychologist Dr. Anna Sedda, who is based at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, is one of the few academics looking into Body Integrity Identity Disorder. She has conducted tests with Nick and is keen to add his results to her research.
She explains, ‘It’s a peculiar condition, known since around 1970, where a perfectly healthy individual with no physical damage, no psychiatric problems starts to desire a different body.’
‘The life risk that is associated with BIID is really extreme and we should try to understand what we can do for these individuals. It’s not fair to be suffering like this and to put your life at risk.’
For now, all Nick can do is wait to see if new treatment becomes available.
He says, ‘I would like to start living again but I’d also like to work with people with Body Integrity Identity Disorder and help them either cope with it or get the help they need and give other people that do have it the sense that they’re not alone.
‘If a choice came for an amputation I would jump at the opportunity. That’s the only way that I could see the itch would stop.’