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Perfect Chaos

Written by Paula Hermann
May 7, 2012

UPDATE, May 8, 2:48 p.m.: Cinda and Linea Johnson appeared on KING 5's "New Day NW" today.

Linea Johnson was a beautiful, highly motivated, honors student whose musical talents earned her a scholarship to Chicago's Columbia College. Her occasional teenage bouts with depression were, what her mother Cinda thought, normal high school anxieties that all high school seniors experience as they deal with the stress of college applications, friendships and grades. But when Linea got to college, the episodes increased and intensified to the point where she became very sick, sick enough that she needed to return home. 

Cinda, director for the Special Education program at Seattle University, and her husband, Curt, brought Linea back to Seattle where she was soon hospitalized for severe and suicidal depression. She was a patient at Harborview MedicalCenter where she was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

"We were shocked," said Cinda. "Given that I teach about this stuff and know the symptoms, I didn't recognize this as a brain disorder. I knew at that point that it was more than depression, but I wasn't ready to say this was a serious brain disorder."

The next two years would be filled with doctor visits, hospitalizations, treatments and multiple rounds of medications. When Linea felt well enough, she returned to Chicago. Cinda juggled her role as a parent supporting a sick adult child with her teaching responsibilities in the College of Education.

"I was so thankful for my colleagues who knew exactly what to say, donated airline miles for us to go back and forth to Chicago, and even took over my classes when the hospital called and needed me there," she said. "Their support helped me get through it."

Linea's strong will to get back up from some very dark moments also inspired Cinda to maintain hope.

"Her academics kept her going," said Cinda. "She really wanted to finish her degree, to live and be well. As soon as she felt she had the right medications and treatment plan, she would go right back to classes."

She did go back, but eventually, life in the competitive music program in Chicago became too stressful. Linea left her music career and transferred to Seattle University where she graduated with a degree in creative writing. Two days after graduation, she and Cinda sold their story, Perfect Chaos, to St. Martin's Press. The book comes out this week.

The book is a dual memoir, a compilation of four years of Linea's moving, inspiring and often harrowing journal entries during good times and bad. Linea wrote when she was locked down in the psychiatric unit at Harborview and when she was maintaining a manageable lifestyle in Chicago. Cinda shares her journey with Linea, writing about her fears, the struggles to find resources and the injustices she saw in the world of mental illnesses.   

"Linea has always kept journals, primarily as a release and a safe place for her thoughts," said Cinda. "As she became more stable, she started to share her writing with me and was moved to share it with others. I was blown away with how much there was, how detailed it was, how insightful and painful it was. My professional mind was listening and learning, while my mom's side was saying 'I don't want to know this, this is too scary.'" 

Linea's strong writing skills allowed her to articulate to her doctors what most mental health patients may not be able to share with anyone. She also shared her experience with Cinda's Special Education students. 

"I could see that my students were completely taken with her and blown away by what she was saying," said Cinda. "This story touched them because it was a voice of someone who has been there." 

They decided not only would they share their story through a memoir, but they wrote articles and were soon asked to speak at several conferences on mental illness. They became ambassadors for actress Glenn Close's Bring Change 2 Mind organization. Linea presented with Patrick Kennedy, and recently spent the winter of 2011interning at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. 

"One in every four families has someone in their family with a mental illness," says Cinda. "By sharing our story, we hope to help them, or anyone who knows someone with a mental illness, eliminate the stigma. Stigma prevents people from getting the help and resources they need to lead healthy lives."