For 14 years, company director Ellie James has been receiving the same Secret Santa presents at Christmas – bottles of perfume and bars of soap. And when she opens them, she is met with roaring laughter from her colleagues. The presents are mortifying, they break her heart every time because they are a subtle reminder of the horrible genetic disorder that she has to live with. Ellie suffers from a rare condition that leaves her reeking of fish and rotten eggs.
Ellie’s condition might seem amusing or even downright funny, but it’s quite sad when you look at it from her point of view. You might think that she isn’t very good at personal hygiene, but you would be wrong. At one point, she even showered five times a day and scrubbed her skin with dishwashing detergent until it became red and raw. But nothing worked; no matter how much Ellie cleaned herself, the smell kept coming back stronger.
It all began when Ellie turned 30. “At first I didn’t understand what was wrong,” said the 44-year-old from Abingdon, Oxfordshire. “I’d always had impeccable hygiene. The smell was a complete mystery – I wondered if my cat had brought in a mouse and left it to rot. But I slowly realized it was me when strangers began to stare at me while holding their noses. I heard people whispering about me in the office.”