Saturday, October 2, 2021

Breaking Bad

I wanted to write about the AMC TV show Breaking Bad. The show aired originally in 2007. I started binge watching it sometime in 2012 I think, on Netflix and then caught the last season as it aired on AMC. I remember, at the time, I didn't really know that much about drugs, especially methamphetamine, but nonetheless, the story drew me in. If you haven't seen it yet, the premise is that a high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, choses to make meth in order to make money to pay for his lung cancer treatment, money that he would in no way ever be able to make on his salary as a high school chemistry teacher. 

The genius of the story comes in the first three episodes; the show makes the character Walter White relatable. I mean, we've all been through something traumatic in our lives. And who hasn't ever faced a problem where the solution was money?

This premise was particularly appealing to me during the period of 2005 - 2013 when I was living with my parents (except for a short stay in my own apartment for one year starting in 2007). I was fiercely struggling with bipolar disorder and always at odds with them. My life was a nightmare, and I would have done anything to get out of it all. I even tried suicide in 2009. My morals at that time were somewhat malleable. 

I've had emotional problems all my life. And as a consequence, I've struggled with employment. I've probably had 50 jobs or more since I was old enough to work, and the reasons I was fired from these jobs or quit were pretty much the same throughout. There is nothing in this world that is worse than the feeling that you are worthless. 

The appeal of Breaking Bad to me was never more attractive than when I was going through the hardest times of my life. So many times I was faced with problems that would have been easily solved with money. Like the time my 1997 Honda Accord needed a new transmission and I didn't even have a job, or the time a collections agency garnished my bank account and took everything I had right at the end of the semester when I was in art school and needed money to pay for printing of my projects, or when I just needed the peace and quiet of my own apartment, away from my nagging parents. I made a lot of bad decisions, that had a lot of negative consequences. I was suffering, and watching an anti-hero like Walter White solve his problems with a reckless abandon PhD in manipulation and gas-lighting gave me a sense of satisfaction, as I imagined everyone who watched the show experienced.


A week or so ago I decided to start re-watching the show. I've seen it before so I knew what to expect. What I didn't know was how different it made me feel. Things for me are much better now. I'm in my own apartment and I have the best job I've ever had. I pay my rent, and I get no subsidies from the government, no handouts whatsoever.

So now when I watch the series again, I get a whole different feeling. Walter White had been good husband and a good father, but his pride got the best of him. He was faced with an unsurmountable problem and instead of asking for help, or rather accepting the help he was offered, and doing the right thing, he chose the easy way out which was to make millions of dollars manufacturing a product that was not only highly illegal, but also led to the suffering of many others. His recklessness cost him his family, his friends and ultimately his own life.

As I mentioned before, Walter White was a master of manipulation and gas-lighting, and it all started with lies. From the first episode, he lied to his wife and son. This disgusts me. I can't even imagine the idea of lying to my wife, the woman I love and chose to be with until I die. I can't fathom a father lying to his son because my father never lied to me. But the rabbit hole just keeps going further and further down a dark path. For some, I think Breaking Bad is a  curiosity, for others maybe fantasy fulfillment.

I think what changed for me was basically everything. And I think it all started with moving into my own apartment in 2013. At that time, it was subsidized by HUD. I was getting EBT benefits as well. I kept praying for jobs, endlessly sending out resumes. When I moved into my apartment I had nothing but a TV, a desk, a bed and some second-hand furniture. The next two years were the most crucial. I had a lot of the same problems, but having my own place was the catalyst, it was freedom. When I started my current job was when I really started to learn, or rather relearn, what it meant to be responsible; to be valued. And I realized just how bad it is to lie, manipulate and gas-light. 

I see Breaking Bad in a completely different light now. It no longer has the same appeal to my basic impulses like it did when I was suffering. I changed. I took the moral high ground and have been able to keep that path. The easy way out holds no sway over me anymore. I no longer get a subsidy for my apartment, nor EBT funds. I no longer have to worry about choosing to pay for my electricity or my rent. I can't tell you how good it feels, and I did it all without committing any crimes.