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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 September 10, 2019

7 Morning Rituals to Empower Your Day And Change Your Life

7 Morning Rituals to Empower Your Day And Change Your Life

Most of your reality is not a given. It is shaped by your expectations, beliefs and thoughts you have formed about it. A big chunk of these beliefs and expectations are encoded into habits you integrate in your daily life.

Yes, some of these habits are formed unconsciously and can be counter-productive or limiting but conversely, you can consciously form positive habits that will transform and empower your life significantly.

This is a powerful point of departure that more and more people are becoming aware of. The most common trait of highly successful people is the recognition of the power they have in co-creating their reality through changing the way they think, believe or expect their reality to be.

One of the most effective ways of changing our belief patterns is through practising and maintaining daily rituals. Ancient traditions had clearly understood the power of rituals in reinforcing habits and changing the way we see and create our reality a long, long time ago.

Once again, if you look into the life history of any highly successful individual, you will find some form of ritual in their daily routine. Some of these rituals may seem banal or eccentric but don’t be deceived by appearances. Rituals are one of the most effective self-empowering tools freely available at the practitioner’s disposal – that is, you!

Below are some the easiest yet life-changing morning rituals you can do every day. Of course, you can have your own afternoon or bed-time rituals but morning rituals are extremely effective in empowering your day since they help you charge yourself before it all starts.

1. Gratitude

Feeling gratitude and appreciation for those little signs and moments of joy happening in your life is probably one of the most overlooked or underestimated rituals. It is a perfect morning ritual to start your day on a very positive key.

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The real power of gratitude is that it makes you pick out and focus on what is working in your life – what is in tune with your being as a whole. It is selectively positive. It reinforces happiness and positivity by shedding light on those awesome things, small or big, that grace your everyday living.

Quite often, we just pick out the pain points, the problems, the bottle necks, whatever it is that is not working in our life and causing friction, anxiety and unhappiness. This is like constantly rewriting the script of your life with a negative or tragic overtone. Your subconscious mind follows faithfully that script you write whether it is a negative or positive one.

So feeling gratitude is undoubtedly an immensely empowering ritual. Start your day by being thankful for those positive things that happened the previous day or throughout the week. It could be something really petty and small. It doesn’t matter. You might be grateful for an unexpected visit from an old friend, a beautiful encounter with a kind stranger, a new opportunity or whatever it is that shines your way. Do it every morning and see what happens during the day.

Gratitude-Quotes

    2. Writing Down Your Most Important Tasks

    This is a very practical ritual. Start your day by identifying and writing down from one to three of the most important tasks you need to complete during that day. These tasks are ones which support important long term goals that are aligned to your purpose, passion or general direction in life.

    For example, if writing a book or building an online community are important long term goals which are aligned to your personal growth, then an important task for the day might be finishing off a particular page or two of the book or coming up with fresh content ideas for the online community.

    What is important with this ritual is that you identify these tasks and complete them as early in the day as possible. Of course, you will have other tasks apart from the ones you will write down but, these are tasks which can be tackled later or batched up and carried out in one go.

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    Writing down your most important tasks in the morning helps you focus your day and life according to what is essential. It helps you prioritize and manage your time better. As a result, you simplify your life by applying your focus and energy on what really counts for your overall life progress.

    3. Affirm Your Goals in Writing or Drawing

    This is similar to the previous idea but different in its application and purpose. Writing down your most important tasks of the day is a way to have a concrete structure of action to follow. Affirming your goals, on the other hand, is a very powerful way of crystallizing your vision and goals in life into your everyday mental space.

    Writing down or doodling your goals on a piece of paper helps you externalize those goals by giving them form. In return, they are reflected back in your subconscious mind and thus, reinforcing them and integrating them more wholly.

    An example of this would be writing down “I am achieving greater success in my career” or “I am becoming healthier and stronger through my exercise.” Notice the present tense being used as a way to tell yourself you are in the process already. Remember the life script we subconsciously follow? You are basically modifying the script to be applied now in the present.

    Drawing or doodling can be equally, or even more, effective  (if you are more of a visual person) as it summarizes a graphical representation of your goals. For example, if your goal is to build a new house or live in another country, you can draw the house or draw things that symbolise the country you want to live in.

    write down goals

      4. Practice Qi Gong Exercises

      According to Chinese philosophy, Qi (pronounced ‘Chee’) means the life force or energy inherent in all things;[1] and Qi Gong is the practice to cultivate and circulate that energy in your body. This may sound esoteric or complicated but actually, Qi Gong is really a set of simple exercises aimed at increasing your health and vitality.

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      There are numerous forms and practices available for free through the online media. As a morning ritual, I recommend following these simple exercises by Qi Gong master Lee Holden:

      5. Drink Hot Water with Lemon

      Simply add a slice of lemon in a glass of hot water and drink one every morning. This is a very simple ritual I follow faithfully every morning.

      Apart from being a good source of vitamin C and a great way of flushing out toxins in the morning, it balances and maintains the PH levels in the body, reduces pain and inflammation in joints and knees and helps nourishing brain and nerve cells. Here are some more benefits of drinking hot water with lemon.

      6. Rise Earlier

      The practical advantages of waking up early are obvious.

      For example, you gain more time for doing exercise such as walking, cycling or Qi Gong as suggested above. You gain more time to be with yourself to reflect, meditate or, more importantly, carry out the other morning rituals.

      So rising early can be seen as a foundation for all the other morning rituals. Many, like myself, find that they are more productive in the early hours of the day.

      Also, various studies have shown that there are many other benefits from waking up an hour or two earlier in the morning. Sleeping early and waking up early helps the body attune with the earth’s circadian rhythms thus, promoting more restorative sleep. Other curious results from such studies show, for instance, that early risers tend to be more optimistic and can anticipate and solve problems more efficiently than the norm.[2]

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      7. Listen to Uplifting Music

      Uplifting music can have a direct impact on our mood, especially in the morning. It charges us emotionally and tunes us into a more positive outlook of the day ahead.

      Most people wake up to music or listen to music as they commute to work. Very often, however, they tune in to a radio or randomly pick a playlist from their device. Being more selective and conscious of the music you listen to in the morning can have a great impact on your day and life in general.

      It’s funny how we try to choose music according to our mood. For example if you are feeling down or disappointed by something, you are more prone to listen to music that reflects that mood – for instance blues, sad songs or downtempo music. This has the effect of reinforcing that mood. What you need to do is the exact opposite and retune your mood by listening to music that beats to a different tune than that mood.

      Try to listen to more uplifting music in the morning even if, or especially if, your mood does not dictate so.

      More About Energetic Habits & Rituals

      Featured photo credit: Carli Jeen via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Live Science: What Is Qi Gong
      [2] Harvard Business Review: Defend Your Research: The Early Bird Really Does Get the Worm

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