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Perfect Chaos: A Daughter's Journey to Survive Bipolar, a Mother's Struggle to Save Her Hardcover – May 8, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Linea Johnson is a recent graduate from Seattle University, with a major in English and Creative Writing. Prior to transferring to SU, she completed three years at Columbia University, Chicago, in a musical performance program. Linea recently worked as an intern at the World Health Organization in the Mental Health department. She is a national speaker and writer, advocating for understanding and support for people with mental illness and the elimination of stigma.

Cinda Johnson, Ed.D., is a professor and director of the special education graduate program at Seattle University. She is also the principal investigator and director of the Center for Change in Transition Services (www.seattleu.edu/ccts). She is a national leader in the area of transition from high school to post-high school settings for young people with disabilities. She has written articles and book chapters in the area of secondary special education and transition services including youth with emotional and behavioral disorders and mental illnesses.


Perfect Chaos is an open-eyed, sometimes raw, always astoundingly honest account of a family's unanticipated battle with mental illness. Cinda and Linea's 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.” ―Glenn Close, Actress and Co-founder, Bring Change 2 Mind

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.” ―Pete Earley, author of CRAZY: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

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

“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.” ―Patrick J. Kennedy, Former US Congressman and Co-Founder, One Mind for Research

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

“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.” ―Jessie Close, Co-founder, Bring Change 2 Mind

“A simultaneously painful and inspiring page-turning.” ―Kirkus

“Definitely a must-read. . . a well written, clearly told, inspiring story.” ―Examiner.com

“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.” ―Publisher’s Weekly

“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.” ―SheKnows, Parenting


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (May 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312581823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312581824
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #961,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Nanci Schiman on May 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am the parent of three daughters, two of whom have mood disorders. Our family has lived with mental illness for 12 years. I am also a social worker and advocate working in the field of mental illness. In this capacity I have had the opportunity to read many personal stories ranging from self-published, yet to be published, never to be published as well as critically acclaimed best sellers. My personal belief is that many of these `our story' books serve an important purpose for the author, but not for the public. The process of writing provides a journey of introspection, catharsis and healing. But for a story to make the leap to touching, teaching and impacting a broader audience, a book needs several key qualities. And I believe that 'Perfect Chaos' has these qualities.

First, the story must be well written - compelling, capturing and SUSTAINING the readers' attention. Second, because every story is as unique as each of us, there need to be underlying threads which allow the reader to identify with aspects of the story, the circumstances, the characters, the feelings. The goal is not to try to be all things to all people, but rather to help the reader to find the similarities through our innermost hopes, fears and emotions. Third, we need a take away from the book. A sense of hope or empowerment, or a new found clarity and insight into a topic that may have been foreign to us.

So, how did `Perfect Chaos' measure up to these qualities for me? As you can tell by my rating, very well. But let me explain why. `Perfect Chaos' is not a perfect book, but that is as much strength as a weakness. It's a real story, with real people in an all too real situation.
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Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading Linea Johnson and Cinda Johnson's heartwrenchingly honest memoir "Perfect Chaos" about a mother and daughter who somehow managed to stay strong and hang onto hope as Linea battled with depression and bipolar disorder. As someone who has personally struggled with depression on and off throughout my adolescence and adulthood, I identify with much of Linea's perspective and experiences, and it was comforting to know that I am not alone in my suffering. What made this book particularly difficult for me was reading Cinda's side of the story and imagining what my own mother must have thought and felt during my tearful, frantic phone calls when I, like Linea, felt like giving up. I found inspiration in Linea and Cinda's story of how neither of them gave up fighting this debilitating illness even when it seemed the darkness was going to win. I recommend that anyone who has ever struggled with the darkness of depression or any other mental illness, and anyone who has ever loved someone who has struggled with mental illness, read this book!
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Because I know the authors, I found it particularly difficult to read Linea's raw and brutally honest entries as she struggled to overcome what eventually became a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Linea's story makes it shockingly apparent how insidious a brain disorder can be. Her mother's (Cinda) mantra throughout is one of never giving up, never giving in, and remaining strong for her daughter no matter how frightened she herself was. This is a story about a loving, close, well-educated, well-connected family who still had to fight day in and day out to secure the necessary care to help make Linea well. I sincerely hope this story will help other families who are struggling with a mental illness to realize that there is hope and help and they are not alone, but one has to fight fight fight all the way.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Outstanding book. I would like to clarify two things below that I found of concern while reading "Perfect Chaos", however. I was diagnosed with bipolar one 6 years ago; I am a mental health advocate and founder of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance chapter where I live, and I am a college graduate. I am the mother of two little girls, happily married for 14 years and I am living well with bipolar.

In "Perfect Chaos" Linea had an immediate toxic reaction to the drug lithium. I have taken lithium successfully for the past five years. It has been a total lifesaver for me. Please do not let Linea's terrifying experience put you off taking this medication if you are considering taking it. I've had no adverse side effects and I take regular blood tests to make sure I am in the therapeutic range, and of course I see my psychiatrist monthly for monitoring. There were some inaccurate facts described about this drug in that section of the book, so please consult with your medical professional about it. I also felt that Linea's ECT experience (while described as being very helpful to her) was lacking somewhat; to be specific it was stated that the brain needed to "heal" post-treatment. I don't know if that's an accurate statement to make about ECT. ECT causes seizures in the brain. Does a brain heal after being given seizures? Not sure. But I'm not an M.D. In any case, I've had ECT with excellent results both during the procedures and afterwards, with no adverse side effects and I write about it in the Huffington Post.

That aside, I am grateful for this book. As the mother of two young girls whose grandfather and mother have bipolar one, I will watch for the signs of bipolar always.
Thank you to Cinda and Linea for sharing your harrowing, inspiring experience.
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