Perfect Chaos: One family’s struggle with bipolar disorder

May 8, 2012 at 12:00 p.m. ET

Perfect Chaos is the heartbreaking and courageous story of one family’s journey through the landscape of their daughter’s mental illness and their valiant efforts to save her.

mental illness

Parenting a child with mental illness

Perfect Chaos is the heartbreaking and courageous story of one family’s journey through their daughter’s mental illness and their valiant efforts to save her.

Linea's story

When Linea Johnson began to show signs of depression and suicidal feelings in high school, her family immediately became involved. As members of the mental health profession themselves, Linea’s parents Cinda and Curt knew that getting professional support was critical. But, as Linea spiraled further and further away on a painful roller coaster of hopelessness, mania, depression and eating disorders, her parents struggled to keep her safe. Lyrically written with razor-sharp honesty, Perfect Chaos is the story of Linea’s day-to-day fight with bipolar disorder and her astounding efforts to piece together her life and achieve her own stability and independence.

Mental illness in children

Linea is not alone. Mental illness affects the lives of one in 10 children in the United States. The parents' involved role in the successful treatment of mental illness in children is critical. But it isn’t a straightforward path. Even as a mental health professional, Linea’s mom admits that she did not feel prepared for the maze of confusion that would hit her as Linea sunk deeper into her own world. Cinda writes, “My life was turned upside down when she became ill with what was eventually diagnosed as bipolar disorder. The next few years were completely frightening for all of us as we traveled with her through her hospitalizations, medical trials, electro-convulsive treatment, self-medication and finally to stability. Experiencing it as a mom was much, much different than working with children and adolescents with mental health conditions and later, teaching others how to do so.”

Destigmatizing mental illness

Linea, for her part, has turned her experience into a powerful opportunity to educate the public on destigmatizing mental illness. She now spends most of her time traveling the country speaking about mental health and advocating for support for people with mental illness. “We are quite certain that the general public is not familiar with the fact that one in four families has someone in their family with a mental illness. For teens and adults, 46 percent will suffer from a serious mental illness in their lifetime. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents. As we share our story with large audiences around the country we so often hear, ‘You, Linea, don’t look like someone with a mental illness.’ Mental illness cannot readily be seen in someone who is living well with a chronic disease. Staying stable and therefore productive, contributing members of society takes treatment, support, often medications, and a medical team that can be trusted and consistent enough to learn the patient’s needs.”

Offering a beacon of hope

Both Cinda and Linea’s greatest hope is that their book will be a beacon of light to those suffering with mental illness. Linea says, “I hope that people will feel like they can be more honest about their illness and feel less alone. I hope that people who don’t have a mental illness will begin to understand what it’s like to have one and how they can support someone who does.”

Support for families living with mental illness

If you are a parent searching for support and guidance for a child with mental illness, here are a few organizations that offer excellent resources and support:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great place to start. You can get resources, join discussion groups, learn about diagnoses and find local providers for treatment options.
  • Wellsphere is one of Linea’s most frequented sites. It offers an impressive array of resources related to mental illness and mental health. You can also join communities where you can ask questions, read blog posts and get support. Visit Linea’s profile here.
  • Bring Change 2 Mind is a mental health awareness campaign started by Glenn Close and her sister Jessie which is working to erase the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness.
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is your go-to organization for depression and bipolar disorder. You will learn everything you need to know for self-empowerment, wellness and recovery while living with mood disorders.

Linea and Cinda share why they wrote Perfect Chaos


Can't wait to read more of Linea and Cinda's story? Buy your copy of Perfect Chaos here. Or visit their blog for more hope and encouragement for families struggling with mental illness.

More on mental health

Talking about suicide prevention and awareness
What is bipolar disorder?
The latest in addiction and recovery information

Photo credit: Jordan Swain