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Author Linea Johnson Talks Suicide, Bipolar and Recovery

By Courtney Reyers, NAMI Publications Manager

Lineaís first book, Perfect Chaos, published in May was co-written with her mother, Cinda. Itís a jarring, brutal look at what mental illness can do to families. The juxtaposition of Lineaís stark journal entries next to her motherís unraveling loss of control and fear churn the reader into the harsh reality of bipolar disorderóinto a perfect chaos.

What would you say to someone today who is battling with suicidal ideation?

Thatís a really tough question. When I was really suicidal, people kept telling me it was going to pass, that Iíd get better. I thought that was such bullshit. I couldnít possibly believe it. I would like to say that there is a way out of the darkness, but I donít know if someone would believe me. I think hearing other peopleís stories who have really gone through this are helpful. To see that there can be joy in life, and there is a way out of that utter darkness.

How do you manage your recovery today?

I have an amazing medical and counseling team. I donít know where I would be without them. I donít know if I want to be on medication for the rest of my life, especially if I want to have kids. But for now, meds are essential. My counselor is absolutely essential. Sheís helped me work on skills and attain things. And I exercise.

Your motherís voice is very strong throughout the bookóat times even smothering. You can feel her pain in trying to protect you. What is that like in hindsight?

There were moments where it was way too muchóbut I wouldnít say smothering. For her it was very difficult. That was the only way she knew how to deal with it. It was nice to have support, but I didnít need those 10 phone calls a day. It was a little frustrating but it was hard to find a balance. I needed her at the same time. She was sick with it too, sick with fear and worry. She was worried about losing someone again. [Cinda lost her brother to suicide during her childhood]. Iím 26 now, and weíre still making sure that she feels like Iím safe.

It was really hard to read how difficult it was for your parents to navigate the mental health care systemóeven though they are entrenched in it professionally.

Personally, I experienced difficulty with insurance companies. I was dealing with a serious eating disorder a year ago, but they told me I could see a nutritionist three times in a lifetime. We went through three separate rejections, and finally went to the HR office at Seattle U where my insurance was. And now watching a close friend of mine living with mental illness go through it without insuranceÖitís very painful. Trying to find him help is hard. Heís worked with me because Iíve been through it, but he doesnít have the options I have, he canít afford it. For example, he can only see a counselor once a month. There are not a lot of services for people who have some money, itís really hard for people with no money and there are not enough hospital beds. You know though, it shouldnít be a matter of beds. We should help before that. It should be a community effort. I think that finding that support in the community needs to be strengthened.

How did you find NAMI?

When I was searching the web for everything I could about bipolar, it was really hard for me to know what sites I could trust because there are so many out there. NAMI to me was a ďrealĒ website; something that I could actually believe in, something that I could read about my illness and believe that you knew what you were talking about. Eventually I started to do moreóI did a NAMIWalk and realized what a great community it was. I did a keynote speech for NAMI Washington, met some grassroots leaders and learned more about the amazing programs you have. My mom and I are constantly referring people to NAMI. There is nothing else like itÖthe programs and support groups. If youíre struggling and you need someone, you can immediately go to NAMI. And Iím really excited about

How are you coping today?

I still have a lot of fear about suicide, I feel like I might have trauma from the experience. I fear it coming back so much. I start to get anxious about it. In the book, thereís a part where I say I could feel it coming. Sometimes I think I have that feeling again and I spiral into anxiety. But I have resources and skills now that I didnít have then. I have a support network that knows whatís going on. When I think about it logically, I donít think Iíd become suicidal again. Iíd get help sooner, know how to deal with it much better.

Linea Johnson recently graduated from Seattle University with B.A. in English and Creative Writing. Prior to transferring to SU, she completed three years at Columbia University, Chicago, in the musical performance program. Linea is recently worked as an intern at the World Health Organization in the Mental Health department in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a national speaker and writer, advocating for understanding and support for people with mental illness and the elimination of stigma. She is a keynote speaker at this NAMIís 2012 National Convention in Seattle on June 27. Read more at Linea's blog, The Bunny Years.