Breaking Bad scares me. I’ve never actually watched an episode of the show, but it sounds like something I could get hooked on fairly easily (No meth-related pun intended.). Just the intensity of the thing frightens me. If you saw the end coming, what would you do? Would it bring out the best in you … or the worst?
As hard as I’ve tried to stay ignorant of the misadventures of Walter White, though, I keep finding myself sneaking glances at episode summaries on the internet, especially now that the show is in its final season. Pretty intense stuff. So when I noticed a link to a Rolling Stone interview titled “Bryan Cranston Reveals Walter White’s Motives,” I immediately had to check it out.
Turns out that in addition to having cancer, Walt was suffering from depression when the show first began. Or at least Cranston seems to think he was. “When he received the information about his cancer, his depression made him more susceptible than if he was whole and feeling good about himself,” Cranston said of the character he has portrayed for the past six seasons. “My theory is, everyone is capable of being dangerous. We’re all capable of inflicting harm to ourselves and to others.”
We are all capable of inflicting harm to ourselves and to others. Shortly after Aaron Alexis opened fire at the Navy Sea Systems Command building in Washington, D.C., Monday, I noticed a comment concerning mental illness beneath one of the many news articles on the incident posted to Facebook. Upon further investigation, it has been revealed that Alexis was being treated for several mental disorders, not the least of which was his belief he was hearing voices that weren’t really there. A Google news search for the term “mental illness” today yields a plethora of results.
Is the answer really that easy, though? “Alexis was mentally ill, so we should put a greater focus on getting people like him the help they need.” That sounds nice, but Alexis was receiving treatment already. He had told police how he had heard voices coming up through the floor of a hotel he was staying in and how he believe people were using “‘some sort of microwave machine’ to send vibrations through the ceiling, penetrating his body so he cannot fall asleep.” His troubles didn’t seem to be that difficult to dig up … so how in the world did he have security clearance to get into a U.S. Naval facility?
The blanket use of the term “mental illness” worries me. I mean, technically, I have a mental illness. I’m guessing a least a few of you reading this right now have one as well. President Barrack Obama has repeatedly called for the stigma regarding mental illness to come down in this country, but I fear his efforts may just be making things worse. Let’s say an employer flags a job applicant because he or she has a history of depression. This could be a totally rational, law-abiding citizen who is more than capable of filling a full-time position, but their efforts to seek help could actually wind up working against them because of their classification.
So do people with mental illness issues hide their issues, hoping to get by the best they can and avoid scrutiny? I think Alexis as much as anyone proved that course of action to be ineffective. I think of the people I’ve know in my life who have flown off the rails, and they seemed to be perfectly normal before something set them off. Certainly not everyone who suffers from a mental illness is a ticking time bomb, but then again there are those who are. To lump both sets of people into the same category would be totally wrong, but the temptation is now present because the words mental and illness have now become equated with someone who gunned down 12 people on September 16, 2013.
I once heard a comedian say that the insanity plea should never be used in a murder trial because anyone who would kill another human being is obviously crazy anyway. To argue insanity is sort of a moot point. I know I’ve never wanted to go on a mass shooting spree (Well, not today anyway… That’s a joke, Mr. President. Please don’t sent the white coats after me.), but what might I do if I was pushed far enough? I choose to seek help so I may never have to answer that question. Hopefully, that will be viewed as a sign of strength by those I encounter. Cranston believes Walt’s emotional makeup “didn’t allow him to reach for the stars.” That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t, though.