which they renovated themselves. She is creative and articulate, with a wry, unassuming sense of humour. Until recently, she had spent the majority of her life in and out of mental hospitals, often under compulsory section orders, suffering from anorexia nervosa and from schizophrenia.
But Jane Masson's story has a cruel twist: she believes that everything after her initial teenage anorexia was due to the side effects of drugs that she was prescribed then, and continued to take for the next 22 years. It was only five years ago that she discovered that escape to normality was within her reach all along.
Her story is bizarre. 'It was 1967 and I was a top student, not just academically. I was in all the sports teams, I won the drama prizes and I had lots of boyfriends. Twiggy had just come in and all the class went on a diet.'
Jane remembers feeling that everything else she had done in her life was for other people. Dieting, for herself, seemed wonderful: 'It felt so easy: I felt that I was doing it.' She starved herself and the weight slipped away effortlessly.
Her health quickly deteriorated and before long she found herself in a London teaching hospital, where she was treated with an experimental combination of electroconvulsive therapy, insulin-induced comas and a powerful cocktail of psychotropic (mind altering) drugs, including tranquillisers. The anorexia continued and she was rapidly diagnosed as manic depressive and finally as a schizophrenic.
Eventually she left hospital and went through several temporary jobs. 'I'd often wander off from my parents, living rough. You don't look after yourself because everything is such an effort. People spiral down; I became very seedy.'
Her weight dropped below four stone and, hours away from death, she ended up in a psychiatric hospital. She had an epileptic seizure and from that day she remembers believing that a device had been planted in her brain. She was, she believed, part of a grand experiment intended to reveal to doctors the inner workings of the human brain. 'I felt as though the whole world was a series of plays set up for me. It was totally credible: I never needed to speak about it because I was sure everyone knew what I was thinking.'
She put on weight and was released from hospital. 'I was seeing a doctor regularly; he thought I should have a boyfriend, so I went and met Tim. We were married four months later. He's an electronics consultant and knows about gadgets and things. But I thought he was a scientist, manipulating my brain. It all seemed part of the experiment.' Anorexia and delusions continued to dominate her life. But she had a baby and for eight years family life went on, with Jane on the edge, in and out of hospitals.
Then in 1987, after a breakdown, she ended up at a new hospital where she was taken off her medication for assessment. 'I got madder and madder. I was unbearable. Eventually I said to my husband, 'Stop interfering with my brain] Leave me alone: I want the end of this experiment now]'
'He was completely dumbfounded. I told him what I had been thinking all these years and we talked and talked. He told me I was wrong. And I suddenly began to think, well, maybe he was right.'
Then came the turning point. Jane was referred to a new psychiatrist, who suggested that her illness was the result of an addiction to her tranquillisers: each afternoon she was suffering withdrawal symptoms from the dose taken in the morning. He advised her to withdraw completely from the drugs.
Withdrawal was two years of hell with bizarre physical symptoms, panic attacks, debilitating anxiety and a persistent inability to sleep. She began to forestall the panic attacks and cope with the insomnia, and to draw beautiful, striking images of faces from magazines and then of people she had known in the many institutions she had been in.
'My brain was clearing and I started to feel alive. It was a complete miracle. I couldn't believe it at first - I was terrified that I would wake up and I'd be mad again. My husband was gobsmacked. I remember laughing at something funny and being completely amazed: I was laughing spontaneously - at a joke] My feelings had come back.'
She believes that everything since the initial eating disorder was attributable to 'toxic psychosis' - an effect of the drugs that she was taking. She had been poisoned by her treatment.
During her recovery she saw Dr Gordon Claridge, a clinical psychologist and lecturer in abnormal psychology at Oxford University. He said: 'I think you have to recognise the value of neuroleptic drugs (which have tranquillising effects), but at the same time a lot of the so- called symptoms of schizophrenia may actually be symptoms of drug treatment.
'The side-effects can mimic psychosis and I don't believe that Jane was naturally schizophrenic,' he said. 'Her brain was in a mess, and if you make anyone's brain a mess, they are likely to become crazy.'
Adapting to her new life was not easy. Jane's drawing has been important for her. 'Life for the last few years has been trying to forget. You need to fill the vacuum and drawing is good for that. It's given me a bit of esteem,' she said. 'The only way to take away the stigma of mental illness is not to be ashamed and to make other people not be ashamed for you.'
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