The window popped up on my computer, an IM from my boyfriend. We, against all odds, were making a 3,000-mile long distance relationship work.
“Have you ever seen Breaking Bad?” He asked.
“Not yet,” I responded. “To be honest, I think the premise is pretty stupid.”
“Give it a try. It’s really really good,” he returned. “Apparently some people think that I look like the main character.“
Well if that wasn’t going to convince me.
He was living in sunny California, I was in snowy, upstate New York, in a miserable former mill town where pretty much everyone was miserable in some form, pursuing my bachelor’s degree after I had just finished up my associate’s degree. School was important to me. I wasn’t athletic and wasn’t popular. My mind was, at the time, the only thing that I had. School was where I felt safe and where I felt like I was worth something. For someone that was in the midst of battling anxiety and depression from the time they were a child, a sense of belonging and worth was very important.
My freshman year went very well and I stayed on campus over the summer to work at my school’s IT department.
Around October or so, about into the fall semester, things felt very strange. Something was wrong. All I could describe to people; to friends, family members, and to the doctors on campus and the doctors they referred me to was that my brain was deteriorating.
Something felt off.
I noticed that I was starting to get depressed. Very depressed. Having been diagnosed with depression from a young age, I wasn’t horribly surprised. It was something I always struggled with, but things were different this time. I felt like things were under control before I went back to school but suddenly, my stability was gone. The rug was pulled out from under my feet and I was rapidly falling into a pit that I didn’t believe I would be able to pull myself out of.
I was scared.
And I was angry.
And looking back, I think it was that anger that made it all the worse. It was bitter, it was cruel, and it held me back instead of propelling me forward. It’s one of the reasons I learned to make peace with a diagnosis now rather than to fight it. I embraced it. I learned how to live with it. I move on.
At the time, I was so close to getting my bachelor’s degree after graduating cum laude with my associate’s. I was making my family proud. I had an incredible boyfriend. I had a great group of friends that I had just met a couple of years ago and was trying to strengthen our bonds. I was scared to lose them all. Stupidly, I hid my illness (and I hid the pain I was in from what would be my second herniated disc – the joys of battling degenerative disc disease). I went to the school’s health clinic to try and fix the problem the best way that had worked for me in the past: medication. Zoloft had worked for me in the past and I knew that all it would take was some pills and I’d be fine once again.
No one would have to know. No one would have to be burdened.
But the medication didn’t work.
I found out, years later, that it was most likely the beginning symptoms of bipolar depression, which I wouldn’t be diagnosed with until 2017. The Zoloft, nor were the other medications that I was placed on, wasn’t going to help because they were SSRI’s, which are known to have negative interactions with bipolar disorder.
Things kept getting worse and worse. Suddenly, I was becoming increasingly afraid to leave my dorm, convinced that I would be shot if I did (this was right after the Newtown shootings and being a Connecticut native and a former elementary school staff member, this hit close to home). I would wake up screaming from vivid nightmares. I would cry until I was numb and then when the numbness would wear off, the tears came back again.
It was around this time that I began watching Breaking Bad, finally getting over the hangup I had over it when I first heard of its premise.
To be honest, I didn’t think that I would get into it as hard as I did. I was hooked after the first episode. Hell, I was hooked midway through the first episode. I spent hours on Tumblr learning about what the fandom was made up of. It seemed like I would fit in perfectly.
I fell in love with Walt White and Jesse Pinkman. Not a creepy fanboy type of love, or an obsessive type of love. It was like they became friends to me. For once, I had someone who I could imagine spilling my guts to and no be judged in some shape or form. I am well aware that they are both fictional characters and I don’t want this to come across as I don’t know the line that exists between fantasy and reality.
‘But what would Jesse do?” I would ask myself when a conflict arose.
‘What would Walt?’
Between the school’s health center and the psychiatrist they referred to me to, not one of the myriads of medications that they put me on worked. My moods were all over the place. I noticed that if I wasn’t on top of the world, I was in the deepest trench of the ocean. There was not a middleman, and the cycle rapidly changed. I was going up and down, from darkness to light and back again. I vividly remember calling my father one night and asking him if I was going insane.
It was around that time that I first dissociated.
I was spending every day in the school counseling center, meeting with the psychologist to try to figure out a plan. My grades were tanking. I would sit in the student center near the campus safety at night because that’s where I felt the safest until my exhaustion would overtake me and I would stumble back to my dorm in the snow.
When it got too much, when I was scared of actions I would take, I begged campus safety to bring me to the hospital. I told the ER how I didn’t want to live with this anymore, whatever this was it wasn’t me and I needed help. I felt like I was beyond saving. The ER kept me for evaluation and I was sent home 6 hours later. I was told that my insurance wasn’t going to cover it. I was told that “all college students felt stress” and all my concerns were brushed aside.
When I heard that, it seemed a sign to me that I needed to stop fighting.
This depression, this mental breakdown, whatever it was, had won.
That March, I made the plan to end my life. I told no one that I was plotting it. I printed out my letter and my final wishes. I turned Breaking Bad on because I wanted to be with friends when I passed.
The suicide attempt obviously failed.
I woke up the next morning, not quite sure how I had survived. But I was angry. I was furious. I couldn’t even do that right?
I looked at my computer and almost laughed at the question I saw on the screen as it came into focus.
“Are you still watching Breaking Bad?” Netflix asked me.
Yeah, I’m still here.
From that point on, my purpose was to live for this television show on AMC. “No half measures,” Mike Ehrmantraut’s instructions to Walt began to hang over me as a constant reminder. I would live each day to the fullest, putting 110% in instead of my usual 100%. I’d watch the seasons over and over, reminding myself that I was safe. I had survived for a reason and I was going to find out what that reason was.
It seems like such a cheap reasoning but with the tunnel vision that comes with depression of all kinds (and many other mental illnesses), it made sense to me. I wasn’t going to try to take my life again. No. Not while Breaking Bad was around and not after it ended. If I could make it until the end of the show, then I could make it through the rest of my life. I had to see how the series as going to play out. Was Jesse going to make it out alive? Was Walt? How would the story end? Who else would they meet? What was going to happen?
Walt (as horrible as his actions were at times) taught me to stand up for myself. He taught me that there’s a solution to every problem, no matter how dire it may be. Jesse, oh Jesse. Jesse is my reminder that sometimes you can live through some really horrible things in your life but you can always make it out alive at the end.
Jesse is my beacon of hope.
I eventually left during the Spring semester of my Junior year, thanks to that herniated disc. After my back surgery, my second, I was tapered down off of all of the psychiatric medication I was put on by the doctors in my college town. I had to get well by June since I had an internship waiting for me in Los Angeles. During that summer, I was offered a job in the San Francisco Bay Area. I finished up my last semester with online classes and finally got my bachelor’s degree. My diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder came in the summer of 2017. We finally had an answer.
And, yes, my relationship is no longer long distance.
Do I still use Breaking Bad as a coping mechanism? Absolutely. If you look at the apartment I share with my boyfriend, you can tell that we’re major Breaking Bad fans. There are throw pillows on the couch, small dolls on the bed. There are the action figures and POP! figures and bobbleheads on the bookshelves. We have a copy of A Thousand Leaves and a green lab apron signed by Bryan Cranston. My side table has a miniature RV with Walt and Jesse POP! figures in it. We have glassware, t-shirts, stickers, and throws. We’ve dressed as Walt and Jesse for Halloween. Multiple years. I have a tattoo sketched out. My computer’s desktop background is always a picture of Walt and Jesse. I have constant reminders surrounding me.
If something is going on: if I’ve received bad news or if my fibromyalgia is flaring up badly, I throw on Breaking Bad.
If I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack or a depression spiral? Breaking Bad comes on.
If I need to quiet my brain? Breaking Bad comes on.
When the series ended in September 2013, it felt like I was saying goodbye to old friends, despite knowing full well that I had the series on Netflix and DVDs). I cried harder than I had ever cried before (at the same intensity or more so than the scene of Snape’s Memories in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2).
The 10th anniversary of Breaking Bad’s premiere is this month and AMC is running a marathon on the weekends. At this time, I’m currently battling the worst fibromyalgia flare-up I’ve ever had, now nearing two months. As I’m curled up under the electric blanket in an oversized t-shirt and yoga pants, I am once again faced with a condition that will greatly affect my life and once again will suit up in my armor to battle
But, life before, I have the team of the very best, including my favorite duo by my side.
If they could get me through absolute hell, then they could get me through anything.