Physical and emotional scars caused by a lifelong condition had left Lincoln nightclub worker Simon Nicholson feeling that dating was no longer on the cards.
Simon, 42, said decades of chronic pain and the loss of his left leg had put huge strain on past relationships, and that after his marriage ended four years ago, his confidence had been completely knocked.
After years of single life, and despite having never been on a date, Simon signed up for help from TV matchmakers and agreed to share his story on the TLC show ‘Too Ugly For Love?’ – a dating programme for people with a “secret physical affliction”.
He explained in an interview with The Lincolnite he hadn’t initially realised the name of the show, and that he felt uncomfortable revealing himself to others.
Simon suffers with spina bifida, a condition where the spine doesn’t develop properly, leading to an incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal chord.
“Surgeons told me I’d never walk,” he said. “But I did, and I lead a normal life right through to my teenage years.
“Then odd things would start to happen. My legs used to just switch off and then I’d end up on the floor. It used to happen more and more when I worked at McDonald’s as a teen. I’d be in the middle of serving a customer and then I’d just fall to the ground.
“I went to a doctor who sent me to see specialist. Through scans they realised what happened was after a previous operation, my spinal cord had fixed to scar tissue, which had stretched and grown.
“Pain became an issue in my 20s. I couldn’t get rid of it, it was 24 hours a day seven days a week for over 20 years.”
Thanks to a morphine pump, Simon’s pain has been reduced in the last few years, but he still struggles with bowel and bladder issues.
“The biggest thing for me though was when I ended up losing my leg through a massive infection five years ago.
“I have no sensation in my left side, so when my leg would get infected I didn’t realise. It was going on for years with infections, so after a few years the consultant said it couldn’t continue.
“The decision to get rid of the leg was hard. Losing a part of your body isn’t nice.
“Some people, bless them, experience it through accidents and have no choice. Luckily, I’d had some time to plan for it and dealt with it.”
Simon admitted that when he looks back, he feels he didn’t cope well at the time.
“My ex-wife was caught up in the middle of all the problems with my leg. We hadn’t been together and married for too long and it put a big strain on us both.
“I didn’t realise until afterwards, but when I was in such prolonged pain my moods were terrible. You end up pushing people away. It did put a strain on the marriage.
“If it hadn’t all happened I think I might even have still been married today.”
Simon was also told he’d never be able to have children, and counts himself extremely lucky to have his two girls Laya, 7, and Ellie, 5 (who also make an appearance in the programme).
On the dating scene
Thinking back to years ago, Simon fondly recalls confident chat up lines at venues he was working in, like Home nightclub, where he still works today.
“Until I lost my leg I never had a problem dating. Working in the nightclub industry, I never struggled finding a partner and met thousands of women week in week out. I sound big headed but I never had to try. All relationships I’ve been in were through work though. I had never been on a date.”
Single life years on was very different, Simon admitted, explaining that the application for the show was a spontaneous move after spotting a post on social media.
“When they told me the title they said ‘think of it as a question rather than statement. Am I too ugly for love?’
“I actually feel I am. I have quite a few scars. I don’t feel comfortable showing myself to people. It makes me feel less attractive.
“I’d never been on a date and this was a blind date on TV. I was petrified. But my confidence grew and I got used to the cameras.
“It’s always difficult bringing up my health condition. If I don’t need to bring it up I won’t.
“I’m so glad I’ve done it. I feel a lot more confident and I’ve met some lovely people through the show and some inspiring people who are like me.
“I feel stupid sometimes talking about my conditions, because there are people out there worse off than me. I have a beautiful family and I am a lucky man.”
— Too Ugly For Love? airs on Wednesdays, 9pm on TLC. Simon’s episode will air on Wednesday, December 7.