Nirvana: via Rubicon

a particular physical or mental weakness or incapacity.
any encumbrance or disadvantage that makes success more difficult.

Probably every person on the planet has a disability. Whether or not it is a handicap depends on its severity and the outlook of that person. Something that would all but destroy one person can be a mere bagatelle to another.

The disability that would rule my life, was first apparent way before the age of ten, but was of no consequence or meaning until my late teens when it started to effect my daily life. As my love life never developed, tertiary education became a chore to be endured; as failure heaped upon increasing disability, I attempted suicide as the only way to peace. At twenty-five I was a failure - I couldn’t even get ‘Elementary Suicide’ right. I was severely handicapped, but diagnosed as ‘clinically depressed.’

Psychiatrists treated me without success. None of their tranquillisers and antidepressants worked, but then I could not tell them what was really wrong, what my handicap was. It was too weird, too painful to tell anyone about; it was just there, festering away, destroying me. Two years later, I tried to cure my handicap and failed. This time I got more drugs, more psychiatrists, shock treatment and unwanted surgery over three months in hospital. I told the doctors what I wanted and didn’t get it, but was still too ashamed to tell them why.

Life just plodded along, my handicap interfering and holding me back all the while. Eventually and with professional help, I found love and happiness, and fatherhood eighteen months later. All was sweetness and light. It seemed that love could cure all, and that my handicap was but a figment of my imagination, a long lost memory. I had it all. This was life, and for the first time ever, things looked rosy and never better.

Some say there is no such thing as mid-life crisis or male menopause but I got it, or something like it, five years later at forty-one. There was no warning, life still looked normal, relationships still seemed sound and normal, but I was not. Something inside me collapsed, suddenly my handicap became all consuming. Nothing else mattered. It was as though I had hit a brick wall, and life could not go on until I sorted out my disability; overcame my handicap. It had become the handicap from hell. I lied to my wife, I lied to my employer and took the day off to cure my handicap.

The next day I woke from surgery, relieved and elated to see that my left leg had been reduced to a newly bandaged, above knee stump. Nothing short of sheer, unbridled ecstasy would describe my joy. At last to be able to live my life as I had wanted to live it since childhood. To have replaced a life threatening handicap with a disability which to me would be as nothing - a challenge even. No longer handicapped, I was now whole as in my dreams and I had a life to get on with, and a family to love and care for. Life may have been rosy and bright before, but this was nirvana. Nothing and no-one was going to interfere with my enjoyment of life on one leg.

A few years ago, I got an inkling that I was not unique, and with access to the internet, not only am I one of many who has shed a limb or two to reach peace of body and mind, but it is a recognised condition with its own name - apotemnophilia.

There are many reports of would-be amputees, both male and female, using dry ice to freeze the offending limb or limbs. Others contrive ‘accidents’ or openly inflict trauma requiring amputation, and there are many others who plan on doing similar when life becomes too unbearable to continue. There have even been cases of legitimate surgical amputation of unwanted limbs, like those reported in the BBC ‘Horizon’ documentary ‘Complete Obsession.’ A programme at a Scottish hospital was abandoned after two amputations for fear of what ‘the tabloids might make of it.’ Yet the obsession can be as strong as the obsession that drives the transsexual candidate to the radical surgery and lifestyle changes that are now accepted as the norm, and to date, there is no credible treatment other than surgery that has been shown to work.

It is a matter of balance. Think of it simply as elective surgery. Many surgical procedures can be had electively, and for a mere whim rather than for any surgical or psychological necessity. Almost anything goes under the label of cosmetic, be it reshaping body, breasts, nose, face, genitals etc. In some cases, and after lengthy psychological assessment, one can have gender reassignment surgery to make a man look like a woman or vice versa. But to have a healthy limb removed? Not on your sweet nelly!

It’s a strange world really. I can have surgery to make me look younger when I am still as old as before. I can have surgery to look healthier and fitter and still be a slob. I can have the organs that make me a man removed so that I can look like a woman. But to have a limb removed to become a real amputee - not pretend or surgically simulated - to remove a desire that has become a debilitating handicap, is just not available. Maybe if I had wanted to be a one-legged woman, I may have been able to get a package deal.

Why I was obsessed with becoming a left above knee amputee (not any limb off, it was always LAK) I still have no idea, but after twenty years, I continue to be happy with my new configuration. My only handicap is my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and that I can no longer fully enjoy an active life on one leg.

I was recently asked, “but doesn’t your use of a prosthesis negate your intent?” Simply, “No.” The prosthesis is only a mobility aid, and when I remove it, there is my stump, my security blanket. After a journey of forty years, visiting places of darkness and deep despair, there is peace and satisfaction in fondling the amputated remnant of my leg.

For years I have lived a lie when people have commented on my achievements, but now I feel free to tell that I am no hero, just a maladjusted sod who caused his own leg to be amputated. I don’t seek pity or sympathy, only understanding for what most ‘normal’ people would see as a very peculiar, if not perverted, obsession.

By Robert Vickers. 9 June 2004.

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