Chloe Jennings-White, a 58-year-old woman from London, lives much of her life in a wheelchair—but she can walk. Jennings-White is not paralyzed. She does not have multiple sclerosis. Her legs work just fine. But she has a rare psychological condition known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (or BIID)—a condition that makes sufferers yearn to be disabled.
Though she only identified her condition five years ago, Jennings-White has lived with her odd desire since childhood. After visiting an aunt that wore leg braces as a result of a bike accident, she could not understand why she wasn’t born needing braces as well, and felt that something was wrong with her because she didn’t have them. At school, Jennings-White purposely avoided polio vaccinations in the hopes of becoming afflicted by the disease and thus needing leg braces. She also drove her bike off a stage at age nine in an attempt to disable herself.
Throughout adulthood, Jennings-White engaged in a number of risky activities, including skiing, sometimes crashing on purpose—though she maintains that she did not seek death, only injury. In the privacy of her own home, she pretended to be disabled.
“I’d bandage up my legs and make pretend splits out of an old meter-ruler, and, my favorite, a piece of track from a model runway,” she said in an interview. “I knew it was strange and others didn’t do it, but it was the closest I could get to how I was meant to be.”
After her diagnosis of BIID in 2008, her doctor recommended that she use a wheelchair to address her psychological needs. She now lives as a paraplegic at home, with her wife, Danielle, agreeing to do the majority of the housework for her.
“Part of her wished I wasn’t in the wheelchair, but she knew it was the only thing that helped, so she played along,” Jennings-White said.
She currently seeks a $24,000 surgery that would sever her sciatic and femoral nerves and would render her legs completely useless. She is now involved in BIID support group transabled.org.