I was only three years ago that Ellen Tatam, 54, from Norfolk, was trapped in what she calls 'hell on earth'. Battling dreadful, soul-destroying lows, and anxiety and depression that put her at risk of harm. Things had become so bad that when Ellen's marriage broke down, her daughter Lizzy, now 18, chose to live with her father.
'Lizzy was 13 when she moved in with her dad,' Ellen explains. And while heartbroken, Ellen couldn't blame her, as Ellen had been battling with undiagnosed and misdiagnosed mental-health problems since she herself was a teenager.
Growing up in Lincolnshire with her parents and younger brother, Ellen was outgoing, confident and chatty, constantly asking questions.
Yet, suddenly, when puberty hit at 15, her mood changed dramatically. 'I was under pressure from my O levels and all the hormonal changes taking place,' says Ellen. 'One night, I got out of bed, jumped on my bike and started racing around town, accusing people of all sorts of imagined wrongdoings, like stealing. I didn't understand then, but this was my first "psychotic break”, where a person loses touch with reality'
Ellen's desperately worried mum took her to a GP, who decided that her symptoms were due to schizophrenia. Her mum was unhappy with the diagnosis and vowed to get a second opinion. Ellen was actually experiencing 'mania', a symptom of bipolar disorder that can appear similar to schizophrenia if someone is out of control.
'In those days – the 80s - there was an awful lot of stigma surrounding mental illness - I'd say it was taboo,' Ellen says. 'Luckily the symptoms passed quickly and life returned to normal, so I put that episode behind me.'
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