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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 July 18, 2019

10 Small Changes To Make Your House Feel Like A Home

10 Small Changes To Make Your House Feel Like A Home

Your house is more than just a building that you live in. It should be a home that makes you feel welcome as soon as you open the front door.

Making your house feel like a home is not something that simply happens on its own. You need to make some changes to a house when you move in, to give it that cozy, warm feeling that turns it into a true home. To help you speed the process, follow this guide to 10 small changes to make your house feel like a home.

1. Make the Windows Your Own

When you move into a home, they often come with boring Venetian blinds or less than attractive curtains.

One of the best ways you can instantly warm your home and make it showcase your style is to add some new window dressing. Adding beautiful curtains not only improves your home’s appearance, but it can also help to control the temperature.

2. Put up Some Art

If you have a lot of bare walls in your home, it will seem sterile no matter how beautiful your paint or wallpaper is.

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Hanging art on the walls will instantly give it personality and make it feel like home.

3. Improve the Aroma

A house that is not filled with inviting smells will never feel like a home. There are loads of ways you can make your home smell nice. There are tons of air fresheners on the market you can use.

Incense and scented candles are a nice option as well. Don’t forget that baking in a home is also a great way to fill it with an aroma that instantly smells like home as soon as you open the front door.

4. Put out Lots of Pillows and Throws

A great way to make your home look warm and inviting is to place lots of pillows and throws out on the furniture. It is much better to have too many pillows than not enough.

There is nothing like the feeling of sinking into a cushiony pillow that feels like a cloud to make you feel like you are at home.

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5. Instantly Class up Your Closet

If your closet is filled with wire or plastic hangers, it will never truly feel homey. To instantly make your closet feel classy, change out your old hangers for wooden ones.

Not only do they look great, but they are better for hanging your clothes as well.

6. Improve Your Air Quality

One of the most overlooked ways to make your house feel more like a home is to improve its air quality.

The easiest and best way to upgrade the air quality in your home is to change the old, dirty filters in your furnace regularly. Get some air filters delivered to your home so that you always have some on hand.

7. Fill it with Plants

Another way to improve the air quality in your home is to fill it with plants. You should have plants in every room of your home.

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They help to improve the air quality and they look beautiful. As well as making your home appear homier, plants also help to boost your mood and lower your stress levels.

8. Change the Doorknobs

Most people don’t really give their doorknobs a second thought unless they are broken. That is a shame because changing your doorknobs is an easy way to add personality to your home.

Changing your old, boring doorknobs to new ones that are works of art will instantly brighten your home.

9. Upgrade Your Tub or Shower

There is nothing like luxuriating in a whirlpool bath or steam shower to make the cares of the day melt away. Your family deserves a bit of luxury when they are in their bathroom.

Install a new shower or tub today to make your bathroom worthy of a place in your home.

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10. Fresh Cut Flowers

You can make any room in your house feel homier by placing a vase full of beautiful flowers in it. The gorgeous look and intoxicating aroma of fresh cut flowers will immediately brighten your day when you encounter them.

You don’t have to make all these changes at once. Try one or two a day though, and your house will feel like a home before you know it. The trick is to constantly keep adding these homey touches to make your home a place worthy of its name.

Featured photo credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-wooden-round-analog-wall-clock-on-brown-wooden-wall-121537/ via unsplash.com

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