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

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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.

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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 December 2, 2021

The Importance of Making a Camping Checklist

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The Importance of Making a Camping Checklist

Camping can be hard work, but it’s the preparation that’s even harder. There are usually a lot of things to do in order to make sure that you and your family or friends have the perfect camping experience. But sometimes you might get to your destination and discover that you have left out one or more crucial things.

There is no dispute that preparation and organization for a camping trip can be quite overwhelming, but if it is done right, you would see at the end of the day, that it was worth the stress. This is why it is important to ensure optimum planning and execution. For this to be possible, it is advised that in addition to a to-do-list, you should have a camping checklist to remind you of every important detail.

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Why You Should Have a Camping Checklist

Creating a camping checklist makes for a happy and always ready camper. It also prevents mishaps.  A proper camping checklist should include every essential thing you would need for your camping activities, organized into various categories such as shelter, clothing, kitchen, food, personal items, first aid kit, informational items, etc. These categories should be organized by importance. However, it is important that you should not list more than you can handle or more than is necessary for your outdoor adventure.

Camping checklists vary depending on the kind of camping and outdoor activities involved. You should not go on the internet and compile a list of just any camping checklist. Of course, you can research camping checklists, but you have to put into consideration the kind of camping you are doing. It could be backpacking, camping with kids, canoe camping, social camping, etc. You have to be specific and take note of those things that are specifically important to your trip, and those things which are generally needed in all camping trips no matter the kind of camping being embarked on.

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Here are some tips to help you prepare for your next camping trip.

  1. First off, you must have found the perfect campground that best suits your outdoor adventure. If you haven’t, then you should. Sites like Reserve America can help you find and reserve a campsite.
  2. Find or create a good camping checklist that would best suit your kind of camping adventure.
  3. Make sure the whole family is involved in making out the camping check list or downloading a proper checklist that reflects the families need and ticking off the boxes of already accomplished tasks.
  4. You should make out or download a proper checklist months ahead of your trip to make room for adjustments and to avoid too much excitement and the addition of unnecessary things.
  5. Checkout Camping Hacks that would make for a more fun camping experience and prepare you for different situations.

Now on to the checklist!

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Here is how your checklist should look

1. CAMPSITE GEAR

  • Tent, poles, stakes
  • Tent footprint (ground cover for under your tent)
  • Extra tarp or canopy
  • Sleeping bag for each camper
  • Sleeping pad for each camper
  • Repair kit for pads, mattress, tent, tarp
  • Pillows
  • Extra blankets
  • Chairs
  • Headlamps or flashlights ( with extra batteries)
  • Lantern
  • Lantern fuel or batteries

2.  KITCHEN

  • Stove
  • Fuel for stove
  • Matches or lighter
  • Pot
  • French press or portable coffee maker
  • Corkscrew
  • Roasting sticks for marshmallows, hot dogs
  • Food-storage containers
  • Trash bags
  • Cooler
  • Ice
  • Water bottles
  • Plates, bowls, forks, spoons, knives
  • Cups, mugs
  • Paring knife, spatula, cooking spoon
  • Cutting board
  • Foil
  • soap
  • Sponge, dishcloth, dishtowel
  • Paper towels
  • Extra bin for washing dishes

3. CLOTHES

  • Clothes for daytime
  • Sleepwear
  • Swimsuits
  • Rainwear
  • Shoes: hiking/walking shoes, easy-on shoes, water shoes
  • Extra layers for warmth
  • Gloves
  • Hats

4. PERSONAL ITEMS

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • First-aid kit
  • Prescription medications
  • Toothbrush, toiletries
  • Soap

5. OTHER ITEMS

  • Camera
  • Campsite reservation confirmation, phone number
  • Maps, area information

This list is not completely exhaustive. To make things easier, you can check specialized camping sites like RealSimpleRainyAdventures, and LoveTheOutdoors that have downloadable camping checklists that you can download on your phone or gadget and check as you go.

Featured photo credit: Scott Goodwill via unsplash.com

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