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Breaking Bad: What to Do if Mental Illness Has You Living On the Dark Side

Breaking Bad: What to Do if Mental Illness Has You Living On the Dark Side

The finale of Breaking Bad starts in August, and for those of us hooked on Vince Gilligan’s blockbuster series, waiting to see the fate of Walter White (Brian Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) is as nerve wracking as being a part of the narcotic underworld.

In case you’re unfamiliar, the story line surrounds Craston, a high school chemistry teacher, who after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer takes a literal turn to the dark side. Worried about how his family will survive financially after his demise, Walt does what any other red blooded American male would do to provide: he starts a second job, only this job is making crystal meth!

Walter White goes from a seemingly decent human being to someone that we don’t even recognize by the end of season 5. Gilligan has often said that his show is a character study of Walter White’s transformation from “Mr. Chips into Scarface.”

How does this happen? How does a good guy suddenly go bad? The same way a perfectly normal person suddenly goes off the deep end with a mental health disorder. Where the seeds to the disorder always there? Did we fail to notice the signs? What happens to push a person over the edge?

Given the right circumstances, we are all capable of being Walter White. Such is the nature of the Fall of Man, but are there commonalities found in what drove Walt to the dark side and what happens to those who develop a mental illness? Are there things that predispose them? Are the things that pushed Walt over the edge in Breaking Bad in some way similar to what happens to the person who seems to develop bi-polar disorder, agoraphobia, or narcissism overnight?

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I believe there may be some common threads.

Biological Vulnerability

If we are vulnerable to something, we’re more likely to be affected by it. For example, some folks might be biologically vulnerable to certain physical illnesses like cancer or diabetes. Disease can run in the family, or we can be set up for it by something that occurred in our early life.

In the same way people are predisposed to get certain physical diseases, they can be biologically vulnerable to certain psychiatric disorders as well. Some common ones are depressive disorders, schizophrenia, or anxiety disorders. This vulnerability is determined early in life by a combination of factors, including genetics, prenatal nutrition, stress vulnerability, and early experiences in childhood.

Our fictional character in Breaking Bad may have been genetically predisposed to develop lung cancer, but was he biologically predisposed to become a narcissistic sociopath? Only a brain scan would know.

Stress Vulnerability

Stress can worsen biological vulnerability, and is defined as anything that challenges a person’s ability to cope. When stress occurs for prolonged periods of time, our resistance becomes weakened. Our ability to cope adaptively lessens, and we are sometimes pushed to despair—even to suicide. Walter White was physically stressed about how his family would make it when he died. This led him to take drastic measures to cope in order to lower his fears about his family’s well-being.

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Environmental Triggers

Various life stressors can trigger mental illness in a person who is susceptible. These stressors include:

•    Death or divorce

•    Illness

•    Family dysfunction

•    Neglect or abuse

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•    Substance abuse

•    Change and loss

•    Social or cultural expectations

As we watch the decent of Walter White, we can see clearly that stress vulnerability, genetics, family issues, and environmental triggers all played a part in causing stress overload for him. But Walt isn’t the first person who got cancer and faced death: he had a choice, and he chose to go dark. He allowed the stressors in his life to over ride his sense of moral reason. No bueno.

People who struggle with mental illness don’t have a choice about their condition, but they do have a choice about getting help. So what do they have in common with Walter White, then? Is there anything these folks can do on the front end of things to cope with life a little more adaptively than he did? Absolutely. Let’s take a look:

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Get a diagnosis

So many people who struggle with mental health issues are going it alone. See a qualified therapist, psychiatrist or family doctor to get to the root of the problem. You can’t treat what you don’t see, and you can’t develop a game plan if you don’t know what you’re dealing with.

Increase resiliency to stress

Be intentional about finding ways to relax and de-stress. Practice deep breathing, muscle relaxation and exercise regularly. Manage your time wisely. Learn to say no. Talk to a trained therapist about what’s going on inside; talk therapy helps to relieve stress.

Get support

Support is critical. Spend time with people who care about you. Talk about how you feel to a trusted family member, or friend. Don’t keep secrets. Join a support group.

Pay it forward

Invest yourself in meaningful activities. Find someone else to help or focus on. Just because you have problems doesn’t mean your life is over. Find someone or something that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose. That would not include being a powerful drug lord or cooking methamphetamine.

See a doctor

So many people who struggle with mental health disorders suffer alone. That’s because fear, shame, and the unknown keep them from seeking the help they need. Mental health disorders are treatable; medication can help. See a psychiatrist if you or someone you love is having problems that don’t seem to get better.

Vince Gilligan is a genius. His series will live in infamy, and while we don’t know the fate of our famous duo on Breaking Bad yet, one thing is for sure—Walt’s story is finished. No apologies. No second chances. No getting better. No coming back from the dark side. Don’t let mental illness send you there. Do what you need to do to take control of your life. You’ll live happier.

More by this author

Rita Schulte LPC

Licensed Professional Counselor

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Last Updated on May 22, 2019

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

There are lots of studies that show if you do some exercise in the morning, you will be in a better mood all day long. You will have more energy and you will certainly be a better colleague, friend or partner.

One psychologist at Duke University has researched the effects of exercise on depressed patients and he has come to the conclusion that exercise has a definite role in treating this condition and has an important role in preventing people from relapsing.[1] According to the New York Times, scientists have now established that exercise also boosts your brain power.[2]

In addition, there are studies from the Appalachian State University which show that blood pressure can be reduced by doing regular morning exercise.[3]

Here are 10 simple morning exercises that will help you feel great the whole day long. You can include some of them in your morning exercise routine or do them all at home without having to enrol in a gym. Consult your doctor before starting any form of exercise routine if you are new to this.

1. Cat Camel Stretch

Stretching exercises are useful for muscle toning and also preventing arthritis. They can either be dynamic or static.

Dynamic ones such as the cat camel stretch, are particularly useful for doing other exercises in the morning. They are also beneficial at other times of the day, especially after long periods of sedentary work. This one is great for spinal flexibility and is a good warm up exercise.

Kneel down on all fours. Start by rounding your back just like a camel so that your head will try to meet your pelvis. This is the camel position. Then lower and lift your head so that your lower back is arched. This is the cat position. Do these movements slowly and smoothly. About 4 or 5 times.

Here’s a video to guide you through:

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2. Go for a Walk or a Run

This is better done outside so that you can connect with nature but running inside on a treadmill is almost as good. You can time yourself and increase length and time according to your fitness program.

Always have new goals to reach. Start with brisk walking and work up to running. At my age, I am still walking!

The health benefits are considerable. You can build stronger bones and you can help to maintain your weight.

Also, you are helping your heart to stay healthy and keeping your blood pressure low.

Learn more about the benefits of running here: 8 Benefits of Running 5 Minutes Every Day You Didn’t Know

3. Jumping Jacks

Michelle Obama is a great fan of this exercise and has become “Jumper in Chief.”[4] They are great for cardiovascular health and also for toning muscles especially the calves and the deltoids.

Stand with feet together. Jump while spreading your arms and legs. Return to first position and keep going! You can start with doing these for 1 minute and then gradually build up to the number you are comfortable with. Here’s how:

4. Abductor Side Lifts

Watch the video below to see how to do this exercise. These muscles are important because you use them everyday to run, get into the car or onto and off a bicycle. They are very important also for your core stability and prevent the pelvis from tilting.[5]

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Do about 10 to 15 raises for each side like this:

5. Balancing Table Pose

This is a classic yoga pose. It benefits the spine, balance, memory and concentration.

Start with the table pose (hands and knees). Breathe in before starting each movement. As you exhale, raise your left leg parallel to the floor as you raise the right arm, also parallel to the floor. Breathe in as you lower arm and leg. Repeat for the other side. 10 repetitions on each side is a good starting point.

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    6. Leg Squats

    Not just legs are involved but also hips and knees.

    Stand with your feet a bit further out from your hips. Arms are out in front of you. Then lower yourself as if you wanted to sit down until you reach a 90 degree angle. You can go down further if you want to. Then return to the starting position. Repeat 15 times for 2 sets for beginners.

    The benefits are that these exercises help with knee stability and can benefit the leg muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.[6]

    7. Push Ups

    You start lying down (face down) but with your body held up at arm’s length. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders. Breathe in as you lower your body. That is fairly easy. Now, as you exhale, you have to get back up to the starting position.

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    An easier version to start with is to bend your legs at the knees so you do not have to lift your whole body.

    Beginners may take up to a month to be able to do 100 push ups so you will have to start with a very small number and gradually increase it.

    This exercise is great for strengthening the chest, shoulders and the triceps. It is a great strengthening exercise for many muscle groups. In fact, most muscles from the toes to the shoulders are being used.

    8. Bicycle Crunches

    There are numerous crunch exercises targeting the abs. The bicycle crunch is a variation where you work more muscle groups. Aim for 15 to 20 reps to start off with.

    Watch the video to see how this is done correctly:

    9. Lunges

    Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Place your hand on your hips. Take one giant step forward with the right leg. Make sure the knee does not go too far forward, that is, past your toes. The left knee will go down to almost floor level. Alternate the legs as you go on.

    Try to do a set of between 8 and 12 reps for each leg. It is important to allow for a day of rest, so this exercise should be done on alternate days, especially if you are using weights.

    This exercise is great for strengthening and toning the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

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    10. Bicep Curls

    You can do this sitting down so if you spend a lot of time on the phone, this is a great exercise to do.

    Choose suitable dumbbells or another household object that you can easily hold. Sit down with the dumbbell in your hand. You need to sit forward a bit so that your triceps can lean on your thigh to give you support.

    Then bring the weighted arm up to shoulder length and then down again. Exhale as you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it.

    Here’re some important notes before you start doing this exercise:

    Try to do one or two sets of about ten repetitions for each arm and then switch arms.

    These exercises are really useful for toning the arm muscles.[7] In addition, they can strengthen and tone the brachioradialis muscle located in the forearm. These are the muscles we use to pick up things when we flex the arm at the elbow so we use these muscles countless times a day.

    You may have to build in a rest day for the heavier exercises, numbers 6–10. On the rest days, you can do gentler stretching exercises and also some walking or running.

    Morning exercise is not only a great mood booster, but will help you keep your weight down and also sleep better![8] Start including one or some of these exercises in your morning routine!

    More Articles About Exercises for Beginners

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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