Disorder Makes Patients Want to Be Disabled

PHOTO: Mark Comer
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The media has not always been kind to people with an unexplained urge be an amputee or a paraplegic – who suffer from Body Integrity Identity Disorder. Although it has led the secret community of these "transabled" individuals to realize they are not alone, it's also prompted outrage against them, with attacks from bloggers, commenters and social media users who call them pretenders and attention-seekers.

But all Mark Comer wants is a cure.

"For the longest time, I thought I was crazy," said Comer, 54, speaking publically about his Body Integrity Identity Disorder, or BIID, for the first time to ABCNews.com. "Maybe I am. In all other aspects of my life, I'm completely lucid -- except this one abnormal slice of my life."

A Taboo Wish and Secret Shame

Comer said he's "rejected" his left leg above the knee since he was about six years old, but he kept the forbidden thoughts hidden from almost everyone for decades. How could he tell anyone he didn't want his perfectly healthy leg?

"For some reason it feels like there's a mistake in how my brain interprets my body," he said. "Anxiety. That sort of fits the description best. Frustration to a great degree. There was nothing in my mind other than getting rid of this effing leg."

Comer could be right. A 2005 study of two men who desired leg amputations found that they actually showed abnormal brain scans when researchers pricked their skin below the imaginary line of desired amputation. Researchers at the University of California in San Diego concluded that it could be a problem with the right parietal lobe which is responsible for mapping the body.

But Comer didn't know that in 1996, when he reached his breaking point and planned how he would rid himself of the leg on his 38th birthday. He went to a garden supply store, bought a concrete parking barrier, sat down in his garage and dropped it on his left leg, hoping to do enough damage to warrant an amputation.

Strangely, he didn't feel pain when the concrete slammed onto his leg, he said, but he kept this from the doctors who arrived after he calmly dialed 911. He didn't want to let on that he hurt himself on purpose.

"Imagine the sensation you have when your foot goes to sleep," he said. "It was tingling. A very large tingling. I wouldn't call it pain."

Comer spent a month in the hospital, but the leg stayed where it was. Doctors didn't amputate because he somehow managed to leave his bones intact. He did, however, severely damage the ligaments in his knee. Coupled with a separate back injury and his BIID, Comer started to use a wheelchair a few years ago.

Discovering a Transabled Community

Years later, when America Online was mailing out free trial floppy discs, Comer discovered the chat room that would change his life forever: Wannabes and Devotees. It was a virtual room full of people who wanted to either have sex with amputees or paraplegics or people who wanted to be them. Although Comer said his need to be an amputee has nothing to do with sex or a need for attention or a wheelchair, he felt relief wash over him.

"I thought I was the only one on earth," he said.

Now, Comer is an administrator on ahiruzone.com, a site for wheelchair-users, and he occasionally visits transabled.org, a 10-year-old site for people who want disabilities that was founded by Sean O'Connor.

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