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Woman Who Sleeps Up To 22 Hours A Day Has Life Transformed By Running Rescue Cat Center From Her Backyard

Woman Who Sleeps Up To 22 Hours A Day Has Life Transformed By Running Rescue Cat Center From Her Backyard
Nikita and her foster cat, Suzie (PA Real Life/Collect)

Kittens can be lifesavers.

A young woman struck down by fatigue so acute she can sleep for up to 22 hours a day says her life has been transformed by fostering cats.

Growing up, it was Nikita Benney's ambition to work with animals, but after being diagnosed with chronic fatigue – a long term illness causing extreme tiredness – in 2007, any hope she had of landing a full-time job were dashed.

Plagued with mental health problems, as her illness plunged her into depression, Benney, was rescued from her gloom early last year when she was accepted to foster cats by the charity Cats Protection.

Fostering kittens has finally given Nikita a purpose (PA Real Life/Collect)

A special outdoor pen was constructed in the back garden of her housing association property in Somerset. Benney has since fostered six felines.

"From the moment they dropped the first cat off, everything in my life changed," she said.

"It gave me a reason to get up in the morning for the first time in years. It felt like I finally had a job and a purpose. I was finally doing something meaningful and good."

Nikita's cat pen (PA Real Life/Collect)

Benney first noticed her health decline when she turned 14, after her beloved grandmother, Josephine, died from breast cancer.

"My nan was living with us for the last year of her life and as soon as she passed away I came down with horrible flu-like symptoms, but I never properly recovered and I've never been the same since," she said.

"I began sleeping in all the time, throughout the school holidays, and would only wake up to eat meals, before going straight back to sleep."

"When I went back to school, by the start of first period I was passing out at my desk and being sent home," she added.

Her parents, Darrin and Kate, kept taking her to the doctor, but no definite diagnosis was made.

"No one was sure what was causing it," she explained. "First they thought it was flu, then they thought it was my thyroid, then my iron levels, but every test result would come back normal."

Nikita and her foster cat, Suzie (PA Real Life/Collect)

"It felt like for the best part of a year I was visiting the doctor every three weeks," she continued. "It was only when they ran out of things to test for that they finally brought up chronic fatigue."

When she finally received a diagnosis in early 2007, Benney was told by doctors there was no real treatment or cure.

Nikita has fostered six cats since summer 2019 (PA Real Life/Collect)

"They said there was no treatment or cure, but that I could try and build up my energy levels by slowly increasing the amount of exercise I did each day," she said.

"I started off doing simple things, like walking to the bottom of the garden and back, which really did take it out of me. I got up to doing a full lap around the garden, but no matter how often I kept trying I was still wiped out afterwards."

Refusing to abandon her dream of working with animals, Benney "scraped through" college – leaving with an NVQ2 in animal care and an extended diploma in animal work.

"The only thing I ever wanted to do was work with animals," she said.

"The specifics changed somewhat over the years, from vet to marine biologist, to opening my own rescue center, but the direction was always the same and animals were always at the core of it."

Nikita has fostered six cats since summer 2019 (PA Real Life/Collect)

"I managed to do a work placement on the course, but unfortunately that was the closest I got to the job I'd dreamed of," she added.

Sadly, it soon became apparent that, with her condition, full time work was going to be impossible.

"After doing the placement I knew, physically, it was impossible for me to have a job," she explained.

Inside Nikita's cat pen (PA Real Life/Collect)

"No one wants to hire someone who does a day's work, then needs a week off to recover," she continued. "It's not fair and it's difficult to accept sometimes, but it is what it is."

"On a bad day, I can be awake for an hour at 9am to eat, before going back to sleep until 5pm, waking up for dinner, and then sleeping at 6pm until the next morning," she said.

"I can quite literally sleep for up to 22 hours a day. The few friends I did have growing up are scattered around the country and if I want to see them it takes an awful lot of planning. I don't have the energy to be trekking across the country and if I do, I need to know I can do nothing else for a week afterwards."

Nikita says fostering cats has 'given her life meaning' (PA Real Life/Collect)

"As for romance, it's never something I've been interested in. It's always taken a back seat – if it happens, it happens," she added.

Her mental health has also suffered, she believes her mental and physical health move together.

"They move in tandem, together," she said. "Whenever my fatigue's got worse, so has my depression and anxiety."

Nikita's foster kittens (PA Real Life/Collect)

"Not being able to do what I want to do, especially professionally, has played a massive part in all of that," she continued.

"It's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when there's nothing that can be done to fix the problem. At some points, before the cat fostering, I found myself with nothing of real meaning in my life and for a long time things were pretty dark."

Benney also says her condition is difficult for other people to understand.

"When people hear the term 'chronic illness' they expect to see it, and when they can't they assume you're a benefits sponger," she explained.

"I've been accused of being lazy and that my illness is 'all in my head,' but people just don't understand."

One of Nikita's foster kittens (PA Real Life/Collect)

"People would say, 'can't you try a bit harder?' or 'you don't look very ill,'" she continued. "It's such a hard illness. It's very debilitating and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."

Benney was locked in a deep depression when she stumbled across an article that finally offered her "a glimmer of hope."

"I was desperate for something – anything – to do when I found an article by Cats Protection about fostering cats, " she said.

"It ignited hope that maybe there was something I could do with meaning, and even better, something related to my dream of working with animals."

Contacting the local council to check if her housing association would allow her to keep cats in the back garden, Benney was thrilled in January last year when she was given the go ahead.

Nikita has fostered six cats since summer 2019 (PA Real Life/Collect)

Luckily her local Cats Protection branch was delighted, and in March 2019 they told her she was an ideal candidate for fostering.

"They sent someone over a week later to inspect the house and went through everything, before checking the garden held enough space to hold the cats in a pen," she said.

Nikita with foster cat, Suzie (PA Real Life/Collect)

In August, Cats Protection built an outdoor pen for Nikita in her back garden, which includes an insulated cabin with plenty of soft bedding and a run, accessed by a cat flap, where the cats can stretch their legs and play.

And, a month later, Benney was called and asked to take in a pregnant stray tabby called Suzie.

"I loved her from the moment that I saw her and have come to love her even more over the months that I've had her," she said.

One of Nikita's foster kittens (PA Real Life/Collect)

Soon Benney's outdoor pen was filled with the meows of five little kittens, too, which boosted her mood even more.

"I went from caring for one moggy to having five tiny little ones to look after too," she said.

" Cleaning the pen, litter training, weening and getting them used to different experiences was so rewarding. It felt like what I was meant to be doing."

Five months of fostering cats has done wonders for Benney's social life too.

"I didn't have much interaction with people before the cats came into my life, but now I'm talking to people regularly from Cats Protection to keep them posted on how the kittens are doing," she said.

"I'm in regular contact with potential adopters and have organized visits for them to see the kittens, too."

Nikita heard about fostering through the charity Cats Protection (PA Real Life/Collect)

"One kitten has been adopted already and his family are in contact every week to keep me posted with how he's getting on," she said.

"Of course, I still get dips in my health and I know chronic fatigue is something I'll always have to live with, but I finally feel like there's a purpose in my life. It feels like I'm running my own cat rescue from my back garden, just like I've always wanted to."