Girl with anorexia helps end stigma after growing up to become mental health nurse

A woman who battled anorexia as a child has turned her life around to help others by becoming a mental health nurse.

Cara Lisette was just seven-years-old when she began struggling with her body image, which led to years fighting an eating disorder in a cycle of recovery and relapse.

Speaking to Uspire, Cara revealed how her experiences have shaped who she is today and enable her to empathise with patients on both a personal and professional level.

Cara said: “When I was around seven, I started to become really body conscious and felt like I was bigger than other children.

“The eating disorder thoughts started creeping in when I was about 12, and by 13 I was diagnosed. I have struggled with anorexia on and off ever since, it tends to pop up every couple of years, I have some treatment, get better, then relapse again.”

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She continued: “I think my experiences of being treated under various mental health services means that I have empathy on a level that might not be possible for people who don’t have lived experience.

“Although I don’t talk about my history with patients in my role as a mental health nurse, I like to think it still influences my practice.”

While Cara sought help from public services as a child, she revealed how access to these can become tricky as soon as someone hits their 18th birthday.

This time is known as ‘transition’, and while the NHS continue to care for a young people seeking help in the system, that person may be forced to see a different doctor or care team when they legally become adults and must switch to adult social care.

Similarly, difficulties often arise whereby 18-year-olds may have to pay for some of the care that they used to receive for free from the council now that they are of age.

It is estimated more than 25,000 young people transition from CAMHS [Child Adolescent Mental Health Services] to AMHS [Adult Mental Health Services] each year, with many reporting a negative experience of transition that sees them disengage from services.

Consequently, they put their health and wellbeing at risk with increased rates of suicide.

Cara told us: “I started seeing CAMHS quite promptly and ended up having an inpatient admission when I was 15. It’s been more challenging as an adult getting into the system due to very long waiting lists and strict diagnostic criteria.

“This is my third time under outpatient eating disorder services and I spent most of this year in a day patient programme. My first experience with the service wasn’t great, but since then, the care I’ve received is excellent once I managed to get into the service.”

Cara now feels her past experiences and current position as a nurse help her empower people with their recovery and is something she continues to love about her job.

She said: “I am good at implementing professional boundaries, but I can still connect with people I care for on a human level without a personal relationship with them.

“I think in something like mental health nursing, it’s incredibly important to have those boundaries in place, especially if you have your own mental health difficulties, otherwise the lines between work and life can become too blurry.”

When asked if there is anything Cara knows now that she wishes she had known in yesteryear, she said she’d tell her younger self that her illness does not need to define her.

Cara said: “I would just like to tell my past self that nothing good ever comes from relapse and that I don’t need my eating disorder to form my identity.

“Every time I have relapsed, I have had more at stake and every single time I’ve regretted getting myself back in a position of being ill again. It’s never worth it.”

Cara now focuses on recovery as an ongoing journey rather than one that is completed and continues to explore ways to manage her wellbeing most effectively.

She concluded: “I am currently still in treatment for anorexia, so I am supported by the eating disorders service for the time being.

“I am due to be discharged in a few months, and I have learned so many skills over the last year that I regularly apply.

“A lot of these are around challenging my disordered thoughts, which I am getting much better at doing now. I also make much more time for self-care now.

“If the last couple of years have taught me anything, it’s that I can’t take care of other people to the best of my abilities if I’m not taking good care of myself.”

For confidential advice, contact the UK’s leading eating disorders charity Beat.