Linea Johnson: A Mental Health Advocate's Reasons for Hope

Have you ever wondered what bipolar disorder is like from the inside? This month on Brain Waves I bring you an interview and open Q&A session with Linea Johnson, co-author of Perfect Chaos: A Daughter's Journey to Survive Bipolar and a Mother's Struggle to Save Her. This extraordinary young woman has not only survived with bipolar disorder but for the last several years has been an outspoken advocate for people with mental illness everywhere. Here she chats about the ups and downs of her disease, the rewards of speaking out, the best way to fight stigma, the wonder of benefiting from improvements in ECT therapy and why people with mental illness should have hope.



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Welcome to Brain Waves! I look forward to chatting with you and answering your questions!
I particularly liked your commenting on how mental health disorders are portrayed on television shows. There was an episode of "Glee" featuring Gwyneth Paltrow where she actually said the line to a classroom: "Practice your bipolar rants". I was really shocked that a show like that, which has done anti bullying episodes and encouraged tolerance had a major star say such a line. There has been a bit of a more accurate portrayal of bipolar disorder on "Homeland" with Claire Danes, but even that seemed to suggest that anti anxiety meds were the treatment for it, which of course, is not the case (at least not for the mood disorder, but accompanying anxiety could be treated as such). How do you think people can affect and advocate against TV and film stigma regarding mental health? -Tami
I'd just like to thank you for your gift, Perfect Chaos. It was an incredible book for so many reasons. First, for your sheer courage in writing it, and second, for the very eloquent glimpse into a very misunderstood illness. the descriptions of your depressions (from both your point of view and that of your mother) were particularly harrowing, but important. My 23 year old son has schizophrenia and suffers from awful depression as well. I now have a tiny idea of the pain he goes through, and this has helped me to help him more effectively. So, I don't have any questions for you, just praise and awe. Keep doing what you do. -Margaret
First of all thank you so much for the wonderful compliment Margaret! Tami, I think television has a huge influence. One way to try to make a change is to write to the people that created the show. When that Glee episode came out I wrote to the creator, director and Writer of Glee, Ryan Murphy. I then posted it on my blog so that others could see it and follow my lead. You can find my letter here:
Thank you for the link Linea. I think I may actually have read that post at one point but I do recall the episode and my reaction to it. I think that is a good idea, to write the people who produce, create, etc. the show. It was also great what you wrote and how you expressed it in terms of how their show could have 1 in 4 statistics even within their own production of it. You are very courageous in your candor on your illness and I especially love how you emphasize the brain disorder versus a personality flaw. I need to work more on my acceptance of this but reading your story really does help. I am curious to learn more on ECT as that is still something that scares me a bit but having run the gamut in different meds, side effects and effectiveness I have thought about pursuing finding out more about it.
How long did it take you to accept being bipolar and what treatment or medication is working for you?
I think I am constantantly in a process of acceptance that goes up and down. My grasp of the illness, my emotional status, my life's daily accomplishments all change my level of acceptance. The things that have helped me most with acceptance are the realization that it is a brain disease not a personality flaw, the discovery of the science behind mental illness and the knowledge of other stories like mine. My treatment today includes weekly therapy sessions with a focus on CBT, biweekly psychiatrist visits and medications, sleep, exercise, healthy eating and mindfullness.
Thank you, we are having a hard time with a someone your age getting on an even keel with this diagnosis that was made in March. He is not consistent with taking the Eskalith and we are not sure of how honest he is being with the psychiatrist. It's a hard situation . Thank you for all the help you are providing.
Your interview was outstanding. You are very brave. Thanks for being so honest. Peggy
Hi Linea, First, let me say, It's very good of you to do something like this. And also, that I had the very good fortune of meeting your mom during the NYC Nami and BC2M Walk in May. She's a wonderful lady. My question is: A friend of mine has a 21 year old daughter who recently was hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar. Her mom has been doing everything she can to help her daughter out. And, for the past 8-9 years, doing it all by herself while holding down a job at the same time. Can you tell me, if it's common for someone dealing with bipolar to be very angry with love ones as in this case, with the mother, who loves her dearly and is being hurt time after time with angry remarks? If so, do you have any suggestions on what the mother can do, to not only help her daughter to get through this, but to also manage to get through it herself? Thanks, Tony Ferrigno, Brooklyn, NY
Hi Tony, that is a very tricky question. I know that there were many times when I was angry with loved ones because I felt they were trying too hard to fix me when I felt like I couldn't be fixed. I think it's easy to take out your anger on someone who loves you because they feel like a safe place to vent. I am sure this is very common at times. I unfortunately think the only thing I personally can suggest is for the mom to keep staying a steady rock in her life and for the mom to take care of herself. As they say on an airplane, put your own oxygen mask on before you help someone else. And speaking of moms and mine in particular, I think she might have some good things to say about this. I'll let her know to look at this and see if she has any thoughts. I'm very sorry about this situation. Thank you for your question.
Linea, first of all, GREAT job on the interview! I always learn from you! Tony, your question is such an important one and so common to many people struggling with this illness in their family. I think it is really difficult as a mom or dad or someone who loves the person who is struggling. We just want to make the pain go away more than anything in the world but we can't. And when he or she gets angry and we are trying as hard as we can to make it better it is painful, frustrating and often very sad. But there is only so much that we can do as parents to affect the behavior of our children and adult children. Assure they get the treatment they need if they are willing to participate. Provide all the resources and support we can while they are in a crisis (pick up meds, drive to doc appts, love). But I think it is critically important to take care of ourselves, perhaps through support groups, therapy, a good friend with a strong shoulder, excercise, time to relax with a spouse, partner or friend, and time to just be selfish and have time and space for YOU. I think it also helps to "not take it personally". It often is the instability of the illness and not negative feelings towards a mom or dad that causes the hurtful behaviors. A mood disorder causes huge swings in emotions and anxiety often looks like anger. I also think that sometimes we have to let go. With love. We won't be here forever and sometimes the fear of this illness causes us to hang on harder and longer than is healthy for everyone involved. I am not referring to times when a person is so ill they need support and care (just as we would offer someone going through chemo everything we could) but relationships can get very intertwined even during times of stability due to the trauma of what we have been through. I would do anything in the entire world to have my daughter always be happy and healthy but, ultimately, I can't. I can be here when she needs me and asks for my help. I am very grateful that we have such an honest relationship and I think that has been the key to our journey staying positive. Tony, I encourage your friend to continue to be honest with her daughter and to be very honest with herself and her self-care. Thanks for inviting me into the conversation Linea!

Major thanks to everyone who participated in Brain Waves this month. Welcome back Tami and Margaret. magnesr and Tony, I am glad you asked those questions as they do speak to core concerns of many, many people and families with mental illness. Linea, and Cinda, thank you for sharing, again, from your experiences so lucidly.

I am closing comments now. I hope you will join me next time on Brain Waves! :)

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