At Sammamish High School, Linea Johnson was an over-achiever. She received straight A’s, played sports and developed her musical talent.
But unlike other high school students, she faced burn outs which sent her into bouts of depression – crashes her parents knew weren’t normal.
“It’s addicting to be a mess,” Linea said, reflecting on her episodes.
Her family had no idea – until she was hospitalized in college – that she was living with bipolar disorder, a condition that would catapult the Johnsons into a battle for Linea’s life, a search for a fix and eventually a journey of healing detailed in their new book published in May.
Written by Linea and her mother, Cinda, “Perfect Chaos” is a compilation of essays and journal entries, narrating the family’s struggle against the debilitating disease and their confrontation with the state of mental illness in society today. The goal: share their story and give a voice to individuals with mental illness.
Cinda’s story begins by recapping the childhood of her two daughters. As a professor at Seattle University specializing in mental health, she is acutely aware Linea experienced feelings abnormal to other children.
Despite her parents’ fears, Linea persevered through her high school burn outs. It wasn’t until Linea’s hospitalization and diagnosis in 2007 that her parents realized something was seriously wrong.
“I wasn’t just teaching this anymore,” Cinda said. “I was living this.”
The book moves to Linea’s journal entries – a practice she began as a child – detailing her experience as she battled the ups and downs of the disorder, defined by recurring episodes of mania and depression, leading to unpredictable swings in mood and energy.
As the story progresses, Linea finds herself in and out of psychiatric hospitals in Seattle and Chicago, going back and forth with different medications in a battle to break her destructive cycle of self-harm.
“It’s addicting when you don’t feel good to resort to things that make you feel good, but aren’t healthy,” Linea said. “Doing what is best for you is constant work.”
Her tenacity paid off. She graduated from Seattle University with a degree in creative writing and works at Harborview Medical Center.
She actively works with her mother to advocate for individuals who aren’t able to articulate their experiences with mental health – from feelings to interactions with the health care system.
The book is about “sharing stories so people can feel less alone and understand the mind of someone going through a mental health condition,” Linea said. “It helps people express what they’re going through.”
In addition to promoting their book, Cinda and Linea also speak at mental health conferences, including the 2012 NAMI National Convention, June 27-79 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.
Mary Jean Spadafora:
“Perfect Chaos” is published by St. Martin’s Press. It is available at major bookstores or Amazon.com. List price is $24.99.
FACTBOX: According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), one in four Americans experience a mental health disorder in a given year. About 6 percent of the population lives with a severe mental disorder. Mental health resources include:
National Alliance on Mental Illness. www.nami.org
The Balanced Mind – support for families with children and young adults with mood disorders.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Bring Change 2 Mind – to erase the stigma of mental illness. www.bringchange2mind.org