Jewel Shuping, 30, a woman from Raleigh, North Carolina, who had desired to be blind, fulfilled her life-long dream with help from a “sympathetic psychologist” who poured drain cleaner into her eyes.
Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) is a psychological disorder in which a non-disabled person believes they were meant to be disabled, and thus takes drastic action to become disabled.
It happens when a person’s mind-held picture of their body plan conflicts with reality. This leads to the person developing an aversion to a body part that the brain does not recognize as being legitimately part of the body. Thus, a person suffering from BIID could do bodily harm to themselves in the attempt to remove the offending body part.
In Shuping’s case, she had believed from early childhood that she was meant to be blind. When she was a child, she learned that looking directly at the sun could damage the eyes. So she would stare straight at the sun for hours, hoping that the glare would make her blind.
“When I was young my mother would find me walking in the halls at night, when I was three or four years old,” she said. “By the time I was six I remember that thinking about being blind made me feel comfortable.”
After early efforts to make herself blind failed, she adopted thick dark glasses during her teenage years and a walking cane at 18. She mastered Braille by the age of 20, although she was not blind.
Due to persistent simulation of blindness, experts diagnosed her with BIID.
“I was ‘blind-simming,’ which is pretending to be blind,” she explained. “But the idea kept coming up in my head and by the time I was 21 it was a non-stop alarm that was going off.”
Her obsession with becoming blind led her in 2006 to making an arrangement with a psychologist who agreed to help her become blind. The psychologist poured drain cleaner into her eyes so that she could fulfill her dream of being blind.
According to Jewel, the psychologist put a few drops of drain cleaner in each eye. It was a painful operation.
“It hurt, let me tell you. My eyes were screaming and I had some drain cleaner going down my cheek burning my skin,” she said. “But all I could think was ‘I am going blind, it is going to be okay.'”
She was taken to the hospital against her wish and doctors tried to save her eyesight. But despite efforts she went totally blind after six months.
The first time she opened her eyes after the drain cleaner treatment, she was angry and disappointed that she could still see.
“When I woke up the following day I was joyful,” she said, “until I turned on to my back and opened my eyes – I was so enraged when I saw the TV screen.”
But over a period of six months she lost her eyesight gradually. She was happy and delighted to learn that the drain cleaner had damaged her eyes permanently. It damaged her eyes so seriously that her left eyeballs had to be removed.
Since then she has adapted happily to living as a blind person.
At first, she told her family that she was blinded accidentally. But when her parents learned the truth they were so upset that they cut contact with her.
Without her family, she was left with her former fiancé, Mike, who was blind since his childhood.
Shuping is now studying for a degree in education. She says she has no regrets about taking steps to make herself blind.
“I really feel this is the way I was supposed to be born, that I should have been blind from birth.”
She intends to dedicate her life to helping blind people live independently. She is also involved in educating the public about BIID and helping sufferers seek help.
“When there’s nobody around you who feels the same way, you start to think that you’re crazy,” she said. “But I don’t think I’m crazy, I just have a disorder.”
She acknowledged that people with BIID are misunderstood and that some people even accuse them of seeking disability to get social security.
But she advises people suffering from BIID, “Don’t go blind the way I did. I know there is a need but perhaps someday there will be treatment for it. People with BIID get trains to run over their legs, freeze dry their legs, or fall off cliffs to try to paralyze themselves. It’s very, very dangerous. And they need professional help.”