Having battled anorexia for a decade, Rebecca Hackfath never imagined the illness that nearly killed her would one day lead her to discover her vocation.
Rebecca, who started having issues with eating at the age of 15, is currently in her second year of studying Mental Health Nursing at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).
She was inspired to apply for the course following the support she has received from healthcare professionals who have treated her eating disorder over the years.
“I remember when I was really ill I would sit in hospital wishing I could help others,” said Rebecca.
“The doctors, nurses, therapists and psychiatrists were all brilliant and it’s thanks to them that I got the help I needed. They are the people who inspired me to want to become a mental health nurse.”
Rebecca’s difficult relationship with food started when she was a teenager.
“I was around 15 when the eating disorder began bubbling underneath the surface,” she said. “I saw my older sister dieting and I wanted to be like her, so I started cutting out chocolate and eating healthier. Then it just got worse and worse.
“Looking back, everyone around me could see there was something wrong but I was in denial.”
As she approached her 18th birthday, while studying for her A-levels, Rebecca’s struggle with food continued to get worse.
“That period of my life just felt chaotic,” she said. “There was a lot going on at home, I had friendship troubles and I think I was feeling the pressure of A-levels. But I knew I wanted to go to uni and I genuinely thought that once I moved away from home, everything would be ok.”
In September 2012, Rebecca relocated to Southampton to study Fashion Management with Marketing at Solent University.
“At first I started to put on weight but within a couple of months the anorexia had reared its head again and I started doubting myself thinking I wasn’t good enough for the course,” she said.
“My GP referred me to an eating disorder team in Southampton and I spent three months with them as an outpatient.”
Rebecca deferred from university for a year as she focused on her health, during which time she was admitted to a specialist eating disorder unit in Oxford.
The following September she re-joined her course but within three months her weight had spiralled out of control again and it was then that she decided to leave Southampton.
“I think the pressure just got to me,” she said. “I thought to myself, I can’t do this here. I knew I needed to be in Leicester, around my friends and family – especially my twin sister Beth, who’s always been my inspiration.”
Rebecca was referred to the Langley Ward at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester – a specialist ward for people with eating disorders – where she spent two-and-a-half years.
At her lowest, she weighed just four-and-a-half stone.
However, thanks to the excellent care she received on the Langley Ward, Rebecca was able to make a full recovery and after being discharged, she started thinking about her next steps.
“I didn’t think I could go back to uni because I’d been out of education for years,” she said. “But I started researching and that’s when I found the Mental Health Nursing course at De Montfort University.
“I went to the open day and straight away I had a good feeling that DMU was the uni for me. I went to a couple of other local universities too, but none of them felt right,” she said.
Since starting at DMU in September 2018, Rebecca has also completed three placements across Leicestershire, providing her with hands-on experience of working with patients suffering from a variety of mental health conditions.
“I have had patients come to me for advice on placement and even though their illness is completely different to mine, I still feel like I can relate to them based on my own experiences,” she said.
“The course has helped me both personally and professionally, I love it so much. The course leaders and mental health team at DMU have just been so supportive. I have been really open with them and they have always made me feel like I can go and talk to them – they have played a massive role in me still wanting to be at uni.”
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Jo Sharpe, senior lecturer in Mental Health at DMU, said: “Since commencing the programme last year, Rebecca has demonstrated that she is an inspiration to all around her. She courageously shares her personal experiences in class and supports other students to consider all aspects of mental health nursing care from the service user perspective.
“Rebecca is interested in all areas of mental health nursing care but has a particular passion for working with eating disorder and using her own experiences to improve pathways and provision for those with eating disorder. We are proud to support Rebecca on her journey in becoming a nurse.”
Rebecca added: “I have so much support from my friends on the course too – I honestly feel the best that I have ever felt. As with lots of mental health conditions, the anorexia is still there but I feel like I am in control of it now.
“If I could tell my younger self just one thing, it would be to speak up and confide in one person you trust. It makes such a difference having someone you can speak to.”
Posted on Tuesday 22nd October 2019