June 9, 2010

Finding Dry Land: Linea’s Story

There was a moment in my life when I almost drowned.

Living in the largest dorm in the country with three best friends, experiencing my first serious college boyfriend, living what I thought to be the perfect life of a college kid, I couldn’t have dreamt of anything better. That is, until I turned my back to the ocean and was swiftly and dramatically pulled in by the undertow.

One moment I was there and one moment I wasn’t. It was as if I had suddenly had my brain replaced by someone weaker, angrier, sadder. I didn’t know where I was or what I had set out to do anymore. I couldn’t understand what went wrong. I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly seeing violent images every time I closed my eyes.

Though I didn’t know it, this was a dramatic and intense case of depression. I stopped eating. I broke up with the man who was, at that time, the love of my life. I stopped leaving my room. I stopped all contact with the world, and whether I pretended I was there or not, my eyes were empty.

This went on for several weeks. Floating around Chicago, the city that I had worked so hard to get to. To me this went on for a lifetime. I floated out to sea.

Then my boyfriend, who was now just a friend-friend, called my parents. He called, and just as swiftly as I was pulled under, I was pulled out.


My dad arrived from Seattle no less than ten hours after he was called. My life, my room, and my thoughts were packed up and shipped out. Flown back to Seattle and, in my mind, never to return.

Nothing could have been more painful. Nothing could have been more dramatic to me at that point and place in my life. Nineteen years old and suddenly I was forced to leave my friends, my life, my freedom and everything that I had built within the last two years of hard-earned independence.

I arrived home tired, cold, and wet, water still in my lungs.

The next couple of years moved from an undertow to a tsunami. My mind moved quickly from a “simple” depression to a devastating suicidal obsession. Looking back I am amazed I am even here to tell my story.

In the next year and a half I spent time in hospitals for suicide prevention and for overdose recovery. I spent time in apartments, manic and drugged and depressed and dangerous. I spent so many hours feeling completely out of control of my mind and so many hours trying to fight against it with every form of self-medication and self-harm I could find that I am amazed I have the ability to form thoughts or press my fingers to these keys.

It took me a long time to come to terms with what was happening. After having a “wait and see” diagnosis of bipolar disorder II at nineteen I spent many, many months fighting the label and implications before I received my final, “for sure” diagnosis of plain old bipolar I. My months and years of fighting only made things worse and it took me a long time before I realized that if I was good to myself and my body, my bipolar would be good to me. Who knew stimulants could make you manic or alcohol could make you devastatingly depressed? Though it seems obvious, I sure didn’t.

Once I finally gave in and decided to change my life things began to turn around again. Though it took lots of self-care and finding the right doctors, counselors, and meds, my stability allowed me to live the life I had always dreamed of living. My stability was more than just taking care of myself and finding the right help however, it was also my amazing luck to have the opportunities and support network I do. It was this fact that inspired me to begin to make a difference in the mental health world.

Having spent time in the worst psych units with the saddest cases I realized that things must change. I realized that people need to talk about these things. People need to be able to talk about their thoughts, lives, and feelings. We need to be able to share our stories.

So…here I am today, graduating, speaking at conferences, in classrooms and auditoriums, writing and collaborating with mental health and education professionals, working with amazing mental health organizations, writing a book, and volunteering with BC2M. Through my experiences I have realized that I needed to make a difference, and through my opportunities I have hopefully begun to do so. I am so excited and pleased that I have the opportunity to make the differences that I am seeing.

Today I have found my way back to dry land where I can finally stand on firm ground, and it is here that I will help others do the same.

Photo by Linea Johnson



  1. Beautiful story Linea! I am grateful that you have stood up and spoke out about Bipolar. We need more people like you in this world.

    Comment by Moti — June 8, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  2. Beautifully written. You convey the tragedy and triumph so well which shows us you KNOW and gives us HOPE. THanks you so very much for sharing this story

    Comment by Donné Morgan — June 8, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

  3. Thank you for sharing your story , I appreciate your advice also .
    I only hope to make a difference , 4 members of my family including me have bipolar my youngest who is now 10 years old was diagnosed 4 yrs ago .

    Comment by Laurie Feathers — June 8, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

  4. Linea, Thanks for an inspiring story. While I do not personally have Bipolar, I have worked in the mental health field for 21 years. I also have clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Thanks for speaking up!



    Comment by Brenda Depweg — June 8, 2010 @ 8:45 pm

  5. Thank you Linea. I too would like to speak out, but don’t know really where to begin. I was diagnosed as Bipolar I when I was 19 from a sudden psychotic experience in college, so I know what it is like to have your independence ripped away suddenly. I’m turning 30…today and have been able to reach dry ground most of the time for the past 11 Any words of wisdom on how I really can make an impact would be great.

    Comment by mydualities — June 8, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

  6. […] There was a moment in my life when I almost drowned. Living in the largest dorm in the country with three best friends, experiencing my first serious college boyfriend, living what I thought to be the perfect life of a college kid, I couldn’t have dreamt of anything better. That is, until I turned my back to the ocean and was swiftly and dramatically pulled in by the undertow. One moment I was there and one moment I wasn’t. It was as if I had sud … Read More […]

    Pingback by Finding Dry Land: Linea’s Story (via BringChange2Mind) « My Dualities' Blog — June 8, 2010 @ 9:44 pm

  7. i understand what you are saying ,i went through some really hard times and when i say hard times i mean times when i felt that idid and didnt wantto be with others because when i was with my family i couldnt be the person i wanted to be.i had 2 children and they were brought up with a sibling and his wife and i had to look in like a aunt instead of a mother so they would have a sounder life. i gave up my rights and now i am looked upon as a outsider by the children. i am at a point in my life that i would like to be more than that outsider and i want to help others not have to go through this like i did, i am not blaming anyone but myself because i should have handled it much different but hind sight is much easier. i want to start a type of counseling service with mentors that will help people living in boarding homes. i had a bed and breakfast across the street from my last res care and i always wished the children were older and could had stayed there over night and we could have gone places.i will try to start this for others in the kansas city area in the tri county CLAY PLATTE AND RAY area

    Comment by sandy — June 8, 2010 @ 11:37 pm

  8. My dear daughter, as usual you are eloquent, passionate and write with hard-earned pain and wisdom much beyond your tender years. I was there with you (as you know!) in the “strange journey” of ours. You continue to be so brave and honest. We have said there is power in the experiences, however painful they may be, and an honesty and closeness beyond what we ever would have envisioned while in the midst of the crisis. I an continually astounded by the power of that brain of yours! I also wish the best to those who commented above. Together we can make a difference! Love you! The Mama (aka Cinda)

    Comment by Mom — June 9, 2010 @ 12:59 am

  9. Linea, you are one of the most amazing people I have ever met and every time you write, it’s a ‘sit up and take notice’ moment. You have such a gift for touching the world with your thoughts, your story, your insights. You have conquered so much and you are a role model and inspiration for so many youth who are facing the demons and struggles that you overcame.

    Love ya!


    Comment by Your other Mom — June 9, 2010 @ 7:42 am

  10. Linea,

    Thank you for sharing your story. My 15-year-old son was diagnosed late last year as being Bipolar and many other diagnoses. It seems like everyone is willing to toss a label to everything yet, they don’t really know how to help. My son does not see that he needs help does not fully participate in therapy. He quit taking all of his medication about 2 months ago. He is almost floating through his days. Did you know you needed help when you dad took you home? Have you been a willing participant in your treatment the whole time? Do you have any suggestions?

    Thank you,

    Comment by Lisa — June 13, 2010 @ 1:13 am

  11. As a mother of a 15 yos living with bipolar who has been in residential treatment for 6 months now, thank you for sharing your struggle and triumph.

    Just, thank you. Blessings.

    Comment by Melody — June 13, 2010 @ 1:40 am

  12. I admire you so much for having the courage to share your story. Although my little girl is only 6 years old, she has spent time in 2 separate psyhciatric wards. After her most recent medication change, she is doing well. You express it so vividly – looking on, it’s as if the person is there, then swept away. She can verbalize some of it – she says her head just suddenly started to “feel all mixed up” and she “didn’t know what was happening”. Your words make it so much more clear to those of us who love someone affected by bipolar disorder. Thank you.

    Comment by licoriceroot — June 18, 2010 @ 1:50 am

  13. Linea,

    Thank you so much for writing this: I’ve been in the tsunami too and was surprised to see that you’ve been through some of the same things. I wonder does everyone mourn who they were before this illness? And how they cope with the loss. I meet many people each day going through that adjustment, including myself. Thank you for your bravery and for sharing your story:)


    Comment by Akilah — June 27, 2010 @ 11:13 pm

  14. The Dry Land Trailer (HD)…

    I found your entry interesting so I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Trackback by RazMovies — July 5, 2010 @ 8:17 am

  15. Linea, thank you for sharing your story! Just yesterday I found your blog the bunny years. I cried when i read your story. My daughter is in the hospital struggling with bipolar and fear to change bad choices in her life. I read your paragraphs under “courage to change”. No words could have been more touching at that moment. I am hoping my daughter will listen to what you have to say. Hearing you speak about being honest and not pretending everything is always perfect is just what i think we needed to here. Bless you for you efforts! Dont push yourself too hard. You sound quite busy. Please remember the truths you speak actually bring healing to many. Thank you!

    Comment by Kelly — July 13, 2010 @ 11:59 am

  16. Dear Linea,

    You are a very brave and wonderful young woman. I was very touched by your story. I know you went through a horrible experience, to say the least. You should be very proud of the work you are doing on behalf of mental illness. I also know that by now, after meeting many people with bipolar illness, you realize how fortunate you are to have been diagnosed at such a young age. I was not diagnosed with bipolar until 15 years ago when I was 29, and I have the type which is very difficult to manage. As I write this, I am in the midst of changing medications once again. I have had to stop working because I cannot be consistant, and I never know when I will be ill with either the beginnings of the mania or the depression. I also had to hide it from work, because it was such a “stigma.” I blew up full manic at the position before my last position, and was never treated the same (when I returned, some feared me, some ridiculed me behind my back, etc.). That made having the illness even worse, because even though you may accept it, having to hide it is very painful. Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband, and he and I now catch the mania and depression before they get out of hand. Like you, I’ve been through those depressive and manic times and hospitalizations, where my whole world has turned upside down. I could write a whole book on all the wonderful people I met. Forunately, with the support of my family, my doctors, and a few close friends (you know how some of them drop away out of fear of the illness), I am able to cope with this illness. With me, though, I just have to accept that I am not going to be able to hold down a job, and do many of the things I dreamed of doing. I have to appreciate what I do have, and look for fulfillment in other areas of my life. Keep fighting the good fight, girl. People like you make a big difference in the world. I can see why your mother is so proud of you.

    Thank you for being so honest and sharing your story.


    Comment by Teresa Rouzeau — August 3, 2010 @ 7:51 am

    • Dear Linea and all others above who’ve shared your stories, I’m 42 yrs old and have been finally diagnosed (although I’m not sure it’s a correct diagnostic) with Severe depression, mental disorder and personality disorder. Due to this, I’m currently on medical disability. I’ve gone through the gamete of medications trying to find one that will help me not want to kill myself. I’ve written my obituary as I want it to say what I want to say, not what others wanted to say for me. I want the truth to be told, that I committed suicide to do an illness, an illness that is real, and illness that you just can’t “get over it.” Some of my “friends” (no longer friends) kept telling me to snap out of it. Or asking “what do you have to be depressed about?” Every time I heard that I wanted to scream!!!! Those friends also ran away from me not wanting to listen to “debbie downer” It has been an extremely tough road. But what I’m wondering is, what is the difference between being bipolar and the things I’ve been diagnosed with. Does anyone have advice?

      Comment by Shawn — August 5, 2010 @ 11:39 pm

      • Dear Shawn,
        I do feel your pain. Please know that there are people out there, like me, who care about your well-being. It saddens me to hear that you are at such a low point right now. I’m certainly not a doctor, but I do know about bipolar illness, because that is what I have. When you have bipolar illness, you have severe depression at times and mania at other times (hence, the polar opposites). You can also cycle back and forth between the two, and for me it takes several different medications to keep balanced (I have to change them from time to time). If you are not sure you have been given the correct diagnosis, please use this website to seek professionals who can help you. I actually went to a psychologist for 5 years, and when I came out of the hospital and told him my diagnosis, he had the audacity to tell me that he knew what I had, but he “didn’t want to put a label on me.” I wanted to put a label on him! Now I finally have the right people in place. Please don’t give up. I’ve been where you are right now. I’ve lost friends, and had people say the same things to me. They are just ignorant. Some of these same people have come to me a few years later, because they thought someone in their lives had my illness and needed my advice. Try not to count the people you lose as friends because of this illness — I had a hard time with that too. Acceptance is the hardest thing with mental illness. Once, I accepted it, I stopped seeing it as a prison sentence. You don’t “get over it” you work through it. You can still have a wonderful life. Please don’t give up. Seek the people who understand what you are going through, and those who support your journey through this rough road. Remember I am one of them.

        Comment by Teresa Rouzeau — August 6, 2010 @ 1:52 am

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