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1 Hawthorne Psychology- General Disorders

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Perfect Chaos: A Daughter's Journey to Survive Bipolar, a Mother's Struggle to Save Her

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1. nostalgia



cinda    I am one of those moms who worry. My job from the moment I held each of my two precious baby girls in my arms was to keep them safe. Whether from my own sense of fragility in the world or some constant premonition of danger, keeping my children safe is a guiding light of my parenting. From my earliest years I was a caretaker. My mother was often ill while I was growing up and, as the oldest child, I became watchful and learned that a girl needs to be on her toes to assure safety. My skills as a caretaker and worrier continued when I had my own two daughters. I now had two lives to protect, and I took to it with enthusiasm, often to the annoyance of my girls. Although worrying about their safety has given me many sleepless nights, it may have also given me the strength and the stamina to face the most challenging days of parenting. Worry and my basic urge to protect kept me moving forward when I wanted to quit.

I would guess that to the outside world looking in, my family seems fairly typical. We are a family of four plus one more. Curt and I have two daughters, Jordan and Linea. Cliff became our son when he and Jordan were married. We live in and around Seattle, where it doesnt rain nearly as often as most people think. We are educated but not particularly wealthy when compared to our tiny corner of the world in which we live, but vastly wealthy compared to the world as a whole. Both my husband and I chose fields of study and professions where the dollars arent large but the work is rewarding. We are in “caring professions”—I am a professor in the field of special education and Curt is a vocational rehabilitation counselor working primarily with patients with spinal cord injuries. He works at the University of Washington Medical Center, providing support to some of the most severely injured people from all over Washington, the Northwest, the nation and, often, the world.

Sometimes I think I chose my profession to secure skills and training that would further protect my family from whatever dangers might be out there. (I do know that the experiences in the forthcoming pages solidified my commitment to my work.) I am a professor at Seattle University, six miles across the city from Curts office. We both work in the area of disability, disease, pain, and heartache; him on a daily basis, me with a slim buffer of graduate students and professionals between my office and the field. His office is on the same floor as patients who are new to catastrophic injuries and illness or are fighting the long haul of chronic disability.

I teach graduate students in special education, school psychology, and counseling, and conduct research in the field of disability. In addition to my work with students and schools, I often work directly with families and individuals with barriers and challenges in their lives. I get phone calls, emails, and visits from students and parents lost in the maze of disability, trying to find their way out, in search of any help they can find. I was really good at providing advice. I was “professional.” I knew the resources, the connections, and the steps to take. I offered information, suggestions, and sympathy. Looking back, I realize how little I knew from a personal perspective and how different it is to be lost in the maze of finding help for my own child while overwhelmed with an intense fear that I could lose her. I didnt know nearly as much as I thought I did.

As with most couples who have been together for many years, the traits that first attract you to your mate are often the very same characteristics that irritate you after a few years of marriage and then eventually come front and center again as a focus of love and appreciation. I was attracted to Curts great strength, loyalty, and commitment. These qualities can also present as stubbornness and tenacity, which have made the females in our household angry with him at one time or another. Yet his steadfastness is one of the reasons we all love him: He is there for us, we can count on him. And while he often tells me how strong I am, he is the strength in our family. We couldnt have made it through those difficult years without him. His stubbornness and tenacity are what held us all together.

Jordan Suzanne is our older daughter. She is seven and a half years older than Linea, and so growing up, Linea often had one and a half mothers. Jordan has always been intensely protective of her little sister. Jordan was a fierce girl and grew into a fierce woman whose beauty is a cover for her strength. She might look fragile, but she is not. She buries her fears deeply. She uses her superpowers when necessary and her wits and guile the rest of the time.

Jordan does not particularly like the display of strong emotions, particularly if tears are involved (even though she spent the two hours before and during her wedding crying from happiness). Jordan holds her feelings inside while she projects her very competent self to the world. She is strongly caring, loving, and kind, though shed prefer that you didnt know it. But she has never been able to fool me or anyone else who knows her.

Art and music have always been part of our lives together. Jordan earned a degree in fine arts and has her own business. A gifted artist with creativity that springs from a vivid imagination, she paints, creates murals, and teaches art.

My daughters have always been close as sisters, sharing a wild sense of humor, passion for the arts, and deep love and adoration for each other. It is my greatest joy to be part of the girl trio of Jordan, Linea, and myself. We have spent hours dancing, singing, playing, and laughing. We are very entertaining, at least to ourselves.

Jordan married a man I would have chosen as my own son if I had been given the opportunity. Cliff is confident, kind, loyal, funny, smart, and handsome. He has a wicked sense of humor that he wields deftly. He fits comfortably into our family and provides Curt the space and male camaraderie in a house of women.

Linea is a musician. She plays any instrument she can get her hands on and showed a special attraction to the piano as soon as she was tall enough to reach the keyboard. I taught her to play a few songs before she started school, and from there she moved quickly to formal piano lessons. She practiced and practiced … and practiced some more. We never had to bribe, threaten, or even ask her. From an early age, she learned to play the viola, the guitar, and any other instruments with strings. She began music lessons in grade school, played in orchestras in middle and high school, and attended orchestra camps during the summer, where she experimented with more instruments. Music is a passion and sheer joy for her.

Linea also has the voice of an angel. In grade school she was known for her singing; she forced her friends into productions of Phantom of the Opera, Cats, The Wizard of Oz, and any other musical that caught her ear. She carried around a shoe box containing recordings and programs of the selected musical-of-the-month, which she produced on the playground during recess.

When Linea was ten years old and still going by her nickname of “Mia,” we moved from a school district with only four hundred students total in kindergarten through twelfth grade to Western Washington. Her new middle school had more than six hundred students in the sixth to eighth grades, but the move didnt slow Linea down at all. In the first year of middle school, Linea walked onto the stage and introduced herself to an audience larger than her entire previous grade school. Holding a cordless mike, she said, “Hi, Im Linea,” and sang a hauntingly beautiful solo. Sitting in the audience, my hands were sweating with anxiety. I would never have had the nerve to do that!

Afterward, Linea said to me, “I told you I wanted to be a singer. Now can I take voice lessons?” Soon she added voice, viola, and guitar lessons to the piano lessons she began in elementary school. As she got older, she concentrated more and more on piano and voice.

In addition to her music, Linea played softball and basketball from an early age and continued into high school. She was headstrong, persistent, and competitive in music, sports, and school. But she was kind and very sensitive to her friends and their needs. Her sensitivity was acute and she was easily hurt by injustice, both real and perceived, to her friends and even strangers.

My description of young Linea may sound completely unrealistic, too good to be true, and you might be asking if as her mother I am exaggerating. But my description is accurate—Linea was preternaturally talented and hardworking; she was kind, loving, and a joy to be around. Later I wondered if her tenacity and ambition in music and sports may have been a detriment, as she pushed herself to extremes so as to do everything the best. I also wondered if her unwillingness to give up may have saved her as she later fought to live. In a million years we could not have guessed what was in store for her.

Things were more difficult when Linea started high school. Competition was fierce, as in all large high schools. There were competitive spots for sports and for music, and tryouts for both were nerve-racking. Everyone was working on applications for college and counting the number of star positions they held. Even the hours of community service were competitive and seemed to be more for résumé padding than for actual service. Her freshman year was successful and she appeared able to do it all. She was consistently on the honor roll with her grades, and she sang in honor choirs and ensembles, performed in shows and musicals, and played softball.

As a sophomore, she hit a wall—it became impossible for her to continue with all of her activities. She was pitching for the varsity fast-pitch softball team and simultaneously adding more commitments in musical performances, ensembles, and music lessons. There were simply not enough hours in the day to participate in both sports and music to the degree to which she wanted. The stress was taking its toll. She wasnt sleeping well, and she had times when she couldnt stop crying. I now know these were anxiety attacks, but at the time, I was amazed at how well she managed everything most of the time.

We spent hours talking about how to simplify her life, and I offered her all the help that I could. I wanted her to be kinder to herself. I encouraged her to let some things go and wanted her to know that all she had to do was just “be.” I wanted her to know that she didnt need to have an exact goal for her future, and that her activities could be just for fun and not to assure a scholarship to a prestigious music program. I compared her anxieties to those of Jordans at the same age and wondered and worried if I should do more … but more what? I questioned whether we had pushed her into overexcelling with our pride in her successes. As parents we think we are supposed to give praise for things well done. Had we given her the message that she had to achieve all of this for us to be proud of her? Did I somehow help her define “perfect”? I worried and tried to reassure myself that this was a normal progression through adolescence. My worries would escalate and then suddenly she would feel better for a while—or at least I thought she did.

I knew she was struggling with too many commitments and too much pressure. It was difficult for her to decide what activities to leave behind. The professionals in her life didnt make it any easier. When she decided to quit sports, her coach pulled her aside and tried to talk Linea into continuing. The same pressure came from her music teachers, who pushed her to hang on to everything she was doing. She had the talent to excel in many areas but simply not enough time. When Linea finally made the hard decision to let sports go, she quickly filled every hour with music. She seemed unable to leave any empty space in her schedule.

While she was trying to figure out what to do with her own young life, her friends were also struggling. Her sleepless nights were often full of worry for her them and the things they had confided in her and she had sworn to secrecy. She tried desperately to fix their problems, problems of which parents were not likely aware. One of her biggest fears was about her best friend, Chrisy.

linea    Sophomore year—I am lying on the grass in the backyard, on an old cotton blanket big enough to hold me, ten books, two journals, two pillows, sunscreen, and some homework. Im in my swimsuit even though I know that sunbathing doesnt always do well with my fair skin. I need this lake of soft green grass. This big blue sky. This cocoon of evergreens. I need them because I feel happier this way. At least a tiny bit.

Two days ago, I told my favorite schoolteacher about Chrisys problem. I told her because I thought she would understand, because I was sure she would never jeopardize my relationship with my best friend by letting her know I was the one who told. But somehow I was the one waiting in the office when Chrisy was pulled from class in the middle of the day. I was the one blamed for the humiliation she felt when she was forced to expose the obvious scars on her arms, for having to leave the school counseling office crying in front of our classmates, when I was forced to take her to her car to get her Swiss Army knife, when I was told to take her, crying, into her classroom to gather her things. It was my fault that everyone knew. It was my fault that the unprofessional high school counselor called Chrisys mother at work and told her that her daughter had been cutting. And it was my fault that Chrisy was never going to talk to me again.

I had to tell. I had watched through the weeks as the scars crawled farther down her arm and deeper into her wrist. I watched as she shut the door to the bathroom in front of me and told me to walk away. She told me not to worry about it. She told me it was only a phase. I watched when she told me she wasnt going to commit suicide because, well, you had to cut this way and not that way. (That will never leave my mind. I will forever know how to slit my wrists.) I had to tell.

So I sit here in my backyard, bobbing my feet to some stupid radio hit. My hair in a high tight ponytail, my red polka-dot bikini barely hanging on. I sit here and wonder. What is happening to Chrisy at this exact moment? What did her parents say? What does she do behind shut doors? Who does she talk to for support now that I no longer exist in her life?

Then the thoughts change. Could I cut myself? Where would I cut myself? I cant do it on my arm. That would be way too obvious. I cant do it anywhere people could find out because then I would be such a hypocrite and everyone already knows I was the one who told about Chrisy. But I had to. I had to because I love her. I had to because I would never forgive myself if something happened to her.

But where would I do it? On the bottom of my feet? No one would find it there. But that would hurt to walk. Under my arms? No, they would see when I play basketball. I know. Between my toes.




The sun is shining down on me as I sit in a daze. I am utterly blank, yet my mind is racing a hundred miles a minute. I dont know what I think, or what I feel, but I have this feeling of extreme anxiety and extreme emotion. I dont know what Im emotional about, but it is digging deeper into the depths of myself. It hurts as it overtakes me.

cinda    The door to Lineas depression opened when she discovered that her best friend was cutting herself. Linea was caught in a friendship in which she had promised her allegiance and confidentiality but knew that Chrisy needed adult help and support. She shared her fears with me. She was terrified of not keeping the vow she had made to her friend not to tell and yet she knew that her friend needed help. We talked about cutting and we talked about confidences and when it is necessary to help a friend who may not want it. We discussed me calling her mom or Linea and me together calling her mom with or without Chrisy involved and, finally, Linea talking to someone at school. After much discussion, Linea decided to trust a school counselor. It was not the right choice. The counselor broke Lineas trust and Chrisys as well. She called Chrisys mom at work and told her over the phone that her daughter was cutting her arms with a knife. Linea called me, sobbing. She never wanted to go school again.

When I teach a class of future school counselors and school psychologists, I still use this story as an example of what not to do. I was furious. I was also deeply sad for Chrisy and her family, and I was frightened at the depth of anxiety and depression I was seeing in my daughter.

Linea was a mess. She couldnt stop crying and she couldnt stop thinking about what had happened. She was terrified that Chrisy would continue to hurt herself, and she was humiliated by the scene in the counseling office. The situation had a huge and negative effect on Lineas mood, and her overwhelming schedule didnt help. Linea continued to be anxious and so very sad. We talked for hours about everything that had happened and how she was feeling, but I know now that she didnt—and couldnt—tell me everything that was going on. I did know enough to worry about her mental health, and I asked her to see a psychologist or counselor, who could assure us (I hoped) that we were doing everything we could for her and to help her build skills to deal with stress that it seemed would continue to be a part of her life as an overachiever.

But Linea didnt want to. She was angry with me and said, “I can just talk to you. I dont need to see anyone.” I needed to know that she was okay. I was afraid for her. Chrisys cutting was a complete surprise to me, making me wonder what I didnt know about my own daughter. I pushed her to see a psychologist “for a checkup,” I told her, and if not for her, for my reassurance. She finally agreed, and I drove her to her first appointment. She emerged from the inner office after less than forty minutes and asked me to come in and talk to her therapist. The psychologist had diagnosed her with depression and referred her to a psychiatrist for medication.

I was astounded and frightened. Had I missed something? The mom who should know better? The mom who was always on high alert? I knew Linea was having a very difficult time and that she was anxious about her future and worried about Chrisy. I knew she had trouble sleeping (though I didnt know how often). But clinical depression? Linea was open with me about so many of her feelings. We spent hours talking about everything going on with her, but I realize now that I didnt really know what was going on in her mind. At the time, I somehow felt that I would know if she had crossed some invisible line into an area that needed treatment. I knew that the situation with Chrisy was extremely difficult for her, but I didnt know how close to the edge Linea already was. I know now she was very close to the edge. I believe that every parent asks, “Is this typical teenage angst or something much more dangerous?” I had asked it many times during the first few years of high school, always thinking Linea struggled with the former, not the latter. I know now that the answer was that Linea was approaching something much more dangerous.

I had expected the psychologist to suggest counseling so that Linea could learn new skills to handle her stress and worries about doing everything and doing it perfectly, but I was not expecting a psychiatrist and medication. I was frightened and, to be honest, surprised.

Linea saw a psychiatrist and he prescribed an antidepressant. She took the medication for about three months and then, unbeknownst to me, decided to stop taking it, and I failed to notice a setback. I didnt see much of a change in her moods, but she told me she “felt better.” I was horrified when she told me that she had just “quit taking them.” I warned her of all the dire consequences of stopping medications without a doctors supervision. At this time, reports were coming out about teenagers, antidepressants, and the correlation to suicide ideation. I talked to her about this, and she assured me that she was not suicidal. She met with the therapist a number of times and then told me that she didnt want to keep seeing her. She convinced me that she had just been worried about high school and her friend but that she was better.

In that time and place, I think we convinced ourselves that this thing now officially called depression was due to stress from school, worries about her future, and fears for her friend all wrapped up in her drive to do and be her best. Or maybe I thought that somehow, because of my knowledge, experience, and skills, I could keep whatever it was at bay. I dont know. Looking back, I can see that there were indicators of what was to come, but at the time these were merely hazy suggestions, whiffs of a more serious illness. I dont think we would have done anything differently. I certainly had no idea that this was the beginning of an illness that would almost take her from us. The question “Did you see it coming?” can be answered yes and no. In hindsight, yes, I could see it coming. But at the time, no, I couldnt. We never suspected that a severe mental illness was on its way and would try its best to destroy her.

linea    Sophomore year—I just pitched at the state girls fast-pitch tournament. Im getting hugs and high fives everywhere I turn. Looks of approval from the stars of our high school athletic cult. I had managed to put my name on the social status A-list, a level most sophomores dont reach. I am known throughout school—senior boys and girls congratulate me and acknowledge me. Why isnt it the happiest moment of my high school career?

I am numb, a smile plastered on my face like the one I wear every day. I am completely dead to the fact that I just raised my social status by leaps and bounds. I am numb to the fact that my grandfather was the proudest he had been since my uncle was eighteen. I cant feel anything.

The pills the doctor prescribed for me kept me from the pain of sadness. They also robbed me of the euphoria of joy. I was at a painfully even keel all the time. My emotional life was bland even as my external interactions and activities should have created excitement, adventure, and pride.

What do you do when youre hurt but you stop taking your medicine? When you fall into a slump and dont know how to get out of the hole that youve dug? When you get to a point where you sit in your room thinking and listening to music for hours? When you stop sleeping because theres not enough time to think? When your mom comes in and asks you if you need “help”? When your parents are always asking how youre doing? What do you do when you realize the problem after the breakdown? What about after you think you have things figured out but still feel sad? What do you do when you feel sad even when youre smiling and giggling? When you start to feel like a complete fake because you dont really hear what anyone says but still pretend to care?

Im so afraid not to be perfect in everyone elses eyes. I hate to think Im self-conscious or have bad self-esteem, I just want to be the perfect one. The best. Is anyone really normal? Am I just physically or mentally tired, or do I just try too hard to be perfect?

cinda    Lineas last year in high school was filled with music performances, dances, football and basketball games, church activities, and time with her friends. She sang in four choirs and traveled across the country to compete in music competitions. She played keyboards for a jazz combo while continuing with classical piano and voice lessons. She played Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof and was on the honor roll while taking college-prep classes. A few Sundays a month she sang the liturgy at our church. The majority of the time she appeared able to manage her many activities.

She also spent hours talking about what she was going to do after she graduated from high school. College, yes, but where? What kind? How would she know? Would she make the right decision? She wanted a career in music performance but wondered if she could make it in such a competitive field. We sat in the living room snuggled onto the couch or stretched out on one of our beds, and Linea talked and cried and laughed at herself and what she described as her “problems.” “I know I dont have serious problems compared to so many people. Whats wrong with me? I must be spoiled. I have a great family, great friends, and every opportunity. What is wrong with me?” Though I desperately wanted to provide her with some relief from her worries, I couldnt seem to find the right words to make it better for her.

*   *   *

To the outside world she appeared an organized, happy overachiever. We talked many times about her schedule and finding time to rest, but she insisted she was happiest when she was busy. Most of the time I thought that Linea was worrying too much about what she would do after high school and that once she made some decisions about her next steps she would feel calmer. I believed that what I saw as “stress” was a combination of her need to do everything perfectly and her ability to come fairly close to meeting those goals. She was happy when she was performing, and she had the energy to keep up with long days of music and academics. But interspersed were times of extreme anxiety. I didnt yet understand the level of anxiety, depression, and perfectionism that was within her and not from an outside force.

In addition to her anxieties around graduating high school, she continued to worry about her friends. She was (and is) a caretaker. Many of her friends were having crises of their own. These were the “good kids,” at least in the eyes of their teachers and parents. They were leaders in the school and also deeply involved in sports and music, yet they also struggled at some level with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, cutting, and alcohol and drug use. Although the research indicates that one in five students will have a mental-health condition during the high school years, most parents are unaware of this and, anyway, dont know what to look for in their own children. Linea worried about her friends and tried not only to listen to them but to also keep everyone from harm. Linea was known for her kindness and, to her friends parents, for her stability, her talents, and her academics. Many were shocked by how ill she became after high school.

She didnt drink or experiment with drugs in high school but had times when she nursed the friends who did. When she was a senior, I encouraged her to get out more—in less than a year she would be in college. She went to a party one night, telling me, “There might be alcohol.” The party was at the home of one of her classmates whose parents were out of the country. There were alcohol and drugs and police and broken windows and uninvited guests from an alternative high school across the city. Everything we had ever talked about that could go wrong at a party, did. Linea ended up taking a very drunk and very sick young man home, likely keeping him safe from the worst effects of alcohol poisoning. (For the rest of the school year his parents thanked Linea every time they saw her at a high school event.)

linea    My mind is one big dirty room. Theres a bed to sleep in and think in. Theres a computer that goes as slow as it possibly can. Scattered throughout my room are my activities. Numerous jerseys are scattered and hidden on chairs and under my bed. Music books, schoolbooks, and important papers rest in random piles on shelves, chairs, and various countertops. My calendar is ripped page by page to help me organize, but it is hidden under dirty clothes and in various sports equipment and schoolbooks. Music is always playing, distracting me from the mess that is my life. Smiling pictures line the walls, reminding me that I have friends and family who care for me, while at the same time, they seem to stare down at me through the mess. I would clean my room, clean my life, if I had time. Then I wouldnt be so overwhelmed, but I dont have time. It continues to pile up, becoming even more disorganized

I think theres a point in everyones life when its hard to look up. When you feel youve fallen a million miles below surface and cant find a way to climb back out. It is a time when everything looks dark. It hurts to smile. You try to think of everything that could help you get out, and help you get back on your feet, but its useless. You search for the things that will help you, but you know they really wont work. In fact, youre so tired, you dont really want them to work.

cinda    Linea continued to flip between seeming content with herself and worrying about her future. She panicked whenever she thought about what she wanted to do after she graduated. She worried through her senior year about where she should go to college and if she was really talented enough to take the difficult route through a music performance program. She put off auditions for music conservatories but would not accept the offers that came from universities in the state. At the time I wasnt sure why she wouldnt or couldnt schedule auditions. Looking back, I think that like many young adults, she was not sure what she wanted to do and was too overwhelmed to take the next step. In addition, her level of anxiety (I realize now) and perfectionism froze her in her tracks, but rather than let it go or decide that she really didnt want to or wasnt ready, I think she could only worry with incredible self-criticism playing in a nonstop loop in her head.

Telling her that she could do anything she wanted and that she had it all going for her didnt help. I couldnt get through to her how talented and gorgeous and kind and smart she was. I knew that telling her that didnt make her believe it. In fact, it probably made it worse.

Finally, in February, after a cold trip to Chicago and many anguished hours of indecision, tears, anxiety, and fear before we left, she made the decision that she had been struggling with for two years. She would attend Columbia College to study music. She was awarded a scholarship and the opportunity to live in a city of nearly three million people while majoring in music performance. She was excited to push her own musical training to a higher level. She was moving to Chicago! I was ecstatic about her choice but mostly because a choice had been made.

The next few months were easier. She went to her senior prom with her boyfriend and talked to me about how strange it was to finally have a boyfriend when she was just going to leave anyway. (She had been too busy throughout high school to have a serious boyfriend.) Her graduation was a tearful ending but also a wonderful celebration. We were so proud of her as she sang during the ceremonies. The end of the school year was full of performances and awards and celebrations. I cried during most of them, thinking about what a wonderful and fun time we had with Linea during her school years. While she waited for her name to be called for her diploma, I thought about the last few years. I believed that she had made it over the hump of whatever it was that caused her so much agony off and on. Her moods, worries, and tears were certainly much more severe than anything I had experienced with Jordan, but Linea had always been very sensitive to her own feelings and those of others, even as a young child. Having a second child made me very aware of the differences in temperaments and personalities. I was relieved that she seemed so happy about her next steps, and I was optimistic now that she had made it through the tough teenage years of “transition.” Even though I knew that there would be obstacles and worries in college, I thought that the worst was over. Although I would miss her terribly, I was anticipating the “empty nest” and Lineas success in Chicago.

Toward the end of the summer, Linea, her dad, and I went to the Washington coast for a long weekend; we wanted time with her before she left for Chicago. We rented a place close to the ocean, spent the first afternoon walking on the beach, and finished the day with Dungeness crab for dinner. We had all been asleep for a while when Linea called from her room. She hadnt cried out during the night since she was a little girl. I thought she was sick and went to her. She was crying so hard that she could barely breathe. She didnt know what was wrong other than she felt “scared” and anxious. I dont know why I didnt recognize this as a full-blown anxiety attack. Her dad came in and we sat with her and tried to comfort her while she sobbed and choked, trying to catch her breath. Finally she fell asleep and we went back to bed. I thought that she was frightened about moving across the country where she knew no one and starting college in a challenging music program with other students who, according to her, might know much, much more than she did. But she was extremely well prepared, having studied with top-notch private teachers and coaches in both voice and music. I thought it was likely that every student beginning college felt insecure in the same way.

I still cant sort out which part of all of this was depression or something else and which part was anxiety of growing up, making choices, and leaving home common to all teenagers. Perhaps these years of decisions were more troublesome for someone of Lineas temperament. Curt and I both knew that her worries about her life were intense, but so were her excitement with her successes and her joys when things went well for her. She had always felt everything intensely.

After her depression and anxieties during high school, I knew that she might be susceptible to another depression in college and that her freshman year would at times be stressful as she began her life away from home. Overall her history before high school had been stable; she had mostly been happy and certainly successful in anything she wanted to accomplish. She was (and is) immensely talented in the arts. The creative mind often struggles with intense feelings, and I am familiar and comfortable with this temperament in my own family of artists. I was sensitive to her mental health, but neither Curt nor I ever considered an illness that would change all of our lives forever, almost destroying hers. It was with some sadness but much more excitement and happiness that we began to say good-bye to our daughter as she prepared to move to Chicago.


Copyright © 2012 by Linea Johnson and Cinda Johnson

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jadelin, June 23, 2012 (view all comments by jadelin)
This book took courage and deep experiences of pain to write. The world should be appreciative of what it represents. A mother and daughter, Cinda and Linea Johnson chronicle Linea's descent into her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The journey is so deep and dark and all encompassing. The most compelling moments are tender, where mother and daughter reflect on the power of mental ill-health and the unabashed reality and power of love. This book is a necessary tool for the public as the helplessness and utter ugliness this disorder inflicts on its victims. Moving, tear provoking and a true page turner, this book is truly a gift coming from a place that many have experienced but few are able to bring to the public sphere.
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babe1002, May 22, 2012 (view all comments by babe1002)
This is a brutally honest, sometimes painful, story of a family coming to grips with a member with a mental illness, and especially with Linea's strength and determination to be well. Alternately written in the first person by each, not only does it chronicle the family's struggles with the illness, but it offers their experiences with finding competent health-care professionals and their ongoing never-ending battles with their insurance company to cover the needed treatments. Even as a close-knit, well-educated, well-connected family (both mom and dad have professional connections to health care; she an educator in special education and he a rehabilitation counselor) they found themselves at times wondering where to turn. This book is deeply personal, but it provides so much insight for others who face a mental health challenge or for families that have a loved one with a mental illness. Their goal is to help remove the stigma of mental illness and to provide some hope and strength for all those who are affected by it. There is an omission in the story in that the father is not portrayed as the ever-present stalwart rock that he is and has been throughout this ordeal. He is an unsung hero.
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Product Details

A Daughter's Journey to Survive Bipolar, a Mother's Struggle to Save Her
Linea Johnson and Cinda Johnson
Johnson, Line
Johnson, Cinda
Johnson, Linea
St. Martin's Griffin
Clinical Psychology
Personal Memoirs
Mental health
Psychology : General
Biography - General
People with disabilities
Mood Disorders / Bipolar Disorder
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Includes a Reading Group Guide
8.25 x 5.5 in

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Perfect Chaos: A Daughter's Journey to Survive Bipolar, a Mother's Struggle to Save Her Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$11.95 In Stock
Product details 336 pages St. Martin's Press - English 9780312581824 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Johnson, diagnosed as bipolar in her 20s, is one of the lucky ones, armed with a caring family, good health insurance, and a strong determination to live, as she describes with her mother in this wrenching story. As she and her mother detail their family's attempts to make sense of the disorder, it becomes clear that mental illness doesn't spare even the most loving homes. Between high school and college, Linea shifts from being a happy, thriving, perfectionist to someone overwhelmed by anxiety. At first, her baffled parents believe it's fixable teenage stress. While away at college, the illness fully takes hold and gradually builds until she feels suicidal. Her parents, worried and exhausted, decide that bringing her back to Seattle is the best way to keep her safe. Despite everyone's best intentions, Linea's suicidal thoughts return. Her mantra as she creates a suicide plan is 'I want pain, I want blood. I hurt so much.' She ends up in a psychiatric unit, where she agrees to electroconvulsive therapy. The treatments are not a miracle cure, and although months later she overdoses on medication, it's a cry for help to save her life, and it does. The journey for Linea and her family is a moving and hopeful one, as they better understand how she reacts to the illness, and realize that being bipolar is only a part of someone's life, not the whole." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "Perfect Chaos is an open-eyed, sometimes raw, always astoundingly honest account of a family's unanticipated battle with mental illness. Cinda and Lineas awe-inspiring resilience and the sheer courage of their emotional transparency moved me to my core and deepened my empathy for all those touched by mental illness, including beloved members of my own family. It is about the fierce, transformative love between a mother and daughter and how they both learn to share their truths."
"Review" by , "Perfect Chaos is an important gift to those of us who love someone with a mental disorder. A daughter diagnosed with bipolar disorder and her determined mother take us on their often-painful journey to recovery, giving readers a penetrating look into what happens when mental illnesses strike. This inspirational book teaches us the importance of determination, resilience, love and HOPE. It is a testament to the human spirit that refuses to be defeated by a brain disorder — a must read."
"Review" by , "Perfect Chaos is a memoir of a daughter and mother working together to overcome the daily challenges of living with a mental illness. Through their trials and triumphs, their story provides encouragement and hope for individuals and their families affected by these illnesses." Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, founder of the Carter Center Mental Health Program and author of Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis
"Review" by , "A remarkable story about remarkable women! Linea and Cinda brilliantly light a path to hope, understanding, and acceptance as they smash through the stigma of brain illness. Be inspired by the strong voice they give to patients, relatives, care-givers, and especially to those unable or afraid to show their wants, needs, hope."
"Review" by , "Perfect Chaos is as much a map as it is a memoir, a powerful resource for families and individuals navigating the confusing and painful world of bipolar and mental illness. The dual-narrative of mother and daughter allows for twice the insight and inspiration. From the giddiness of mania, to the crushing depression and yearning to end it all, Linea captures the experience of being bipolar with raw honesty and a fresh voice. Cinda's passages illuminate her life on the sidelines, alternately feeling determined and unshakable or heartbroken and helpless. Her refusal to give up on her daughter, and Linea's will to live, resulted in Perfect Chaos, a brave and realistic, yet life-affirming message of hope to families and individuals living with mental illness." Claire Fontaine and Mia Fontaine, authors of Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey through Hell and Back
"Review" by , "Perfect Chaos is the definition of mental illness. I read most of Cinda and Linea's words with tears in my eyes. Living with bipolar disorder myself I didn't find one untrue word, not one exaggeration in this exemplary book, only the truth. This brave and honest book will educate people who have little understanding of mental illness and allow those who live with mental illness a knowing that they are not alone. I have a feeling I'll be buying Perfect Chaos by the case to distribute to those who don't understand."
"Synopsis" by ,

The Johnsons were a close and loving family living in the Seattle area - two parents, two incomes, two bright and accomplished daughters. They led busy lives filled with music lessons, college preparation, career demands, and laughter around the dinner table. Then the younger daughter, Linea, started experiencing crippling bouts of suicidal depression. Multiple trips to the psych ward resulted in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and it took many trial runs of drugs and ultimately electroshock therapy to bring Linea back. But her family never gave up on her. And Linea never stopped trying to find her way back to them.

Perfect Chaos is the story of a mother and daughters journey through mental illness towards hope. From initial worrying symptoms to long sleepless nights to cross-country flights and the slow understanding and rebuilding of trust, Perfect Chaos tells Linea and Cindas harrowing and inspiring story, of an illness that they conquer together every day. It is the story of a daughters courage, a mothers faith, and the love that carried them through the darkest times.

"Synopsis" by ,
A dual memoir of a mother's and daughter's triumph over mental illness

The Johnsons—mother, father, and two daughters—were a loving, and close Seattle family. Then the younger daughter Linea started experiencing crippling bouts of suicidal depression. Multiple trips to the psych ward resulted in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and it took many trial runs of drugs and ultimately electroshock therapy to bring Linea back. But her family never gave up on her. And Linea never stopped trying to find her way back to them.

Perfect Chaos is the story of a mother's and daughters journey through mental illness towards hope. From initial worrying symptoms to long sleepless nights to cross country flights and the slow understanding and rebuilding of trust, Perfect Chaos tells Linea's and Cindas harrowing and inspiring story, of an illness that they conquer together every day.  It is the story of a daughters courage, a mothers faith, and the love that carried them through the darkest times.

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