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‘I’m not ashamed of mental illness’ - Cromer woman’s battle with bipolar disorder

PUBLISHED: 11:40 23 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:56 23 April 2018

Ellen Tatum, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 50 after a lifelong battle with mental ill health. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

Ellen Tatum, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 50 after a lifelong battle with mental ill health. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

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When former podiatrist Ellen Tatum was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 50, her lifelong struggle with mental ill health began to make sense for the first time.

Ellen Tatum, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 50 after a lifelong battle with mental ill health. Photo: KAREN BETHELLEllen Tatum, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 50 after a lifelong battle with mental ill health. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

Plagued with bouts of severe depression from her early teens, Mrs Tatum, who lives at Cromer, always felt life was a struggle

But, with the help of a supportive family, she managed to overcome her problems to gain a degree in podiatry and took a job at a clinic in Letchworth, Hertfordshire.

However, after the birth of her daughter in 2003, Mrs Tatum’s health took a downward turn when she was diagnosed with post natal depression.

Her recovery was helped by a move to Sheringham and, after setting up a home clinic, joining the North Norfolk Beach Runners and local triathlon club Tri-Harman, she began to feel her life was back on track.

Although still experiencing recurrent highs and lows, Mrs Tatum managed to stay on an even keel for a number of years, but, when her marriage broke down last year, things took a drastic turn for the worse.

“It was dreadful,” she explained. “I went into a full psychotic breakdown, I had delusions, I felt my life was in danger and, although I was lucid at times, at other points I completely lost touch with reality.”

Acutely ill, Mrs Tatum was sectioned and spent four weeks at Mundesley Hospital, where doctors told her she was suffering from bipolar disorder.

Initially reluctant to accept the diagnosis, Mrs Tatum eventually took it on board and says that, for the first time, she is able to open up about her illness and accept help from friends and family without feeling self-critical.

“It was the best thing that could have happened to me,” she explained. “The hospital staff were so compassionate and caring and, although, like an alcoholic, you can never truly recover from bipolar, I feel I am in a good place now.”

Keen to help others with similar problems, Mrs Tatum, who has given up work to concentrate on her recovery, has completed a number of sponsored bike rides for mental health charity MIND and is working on a “warts and all” autobiography.

“I’m not ashamed of mental illness, I don’t think anybody should be and the more people who speak out about it, the better,” she said.

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