When R.J. Mitte started elementary school, he didn’t think his leg braces were abnormal. He believed everyone had to go to occupational and speech therapy, just like he did.
Mitte learned very quickly that was not the case, however, when a fellow classmate asked him, “What’s wrong with you?”
The “Breaking Bad” co-star, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a toddler, spoke at the College on Thursday, April 9, to discuss how he has learned to turn adversity into strength and how to prevent fear from taking control of one’s life.
“Adversity can be as simple as someone blocking your way and preventing you from going where you want to go,” Mitte said in an interview with The Signal. “I never really looked at any of my challenges as adversity. I always looked at them as strengths and as knowledge.”
Cerebral palsy (CP), a condition marked by impaired muscle coordination, can result in muscle tone that is either too tight or too loose. Mitte counts himself lucky that his form of CP causes his muscles to contract.
“That means I could try to fix it,” Mitte said. “I grew up having leg braces and going through casting. I went through feet binding for years, just constantly working on taking control of my body. That in itself is an adversity, but that’s part of life. That’s my normality. I grew up with this. I know this. I can handle this.”
Although Mitte’s condition is something he’s always been able to handle, it hasn’t always been easy.
“I’ve dealt with bullies and with people who didn’t understand me,” Mitte said. “I dealt with people who thought I was weird.”
Because of this, he urged students to be aware of their surround-
ings and aware of others.
“We are all capable of amazing acts,” Mitte said. “But we are also capable of evil acts.”
During the lecture, Mitte told a story about an elderly woman who he watched slip and fall in a hallway. He expected someone to rush to her aid, but instead, he saw the opposite — people moved away from her. Some even stepped over the woman to continue on their way. When Mitte hurried over to assist her, he realized something about people.
“No one wants to be the first to step out of their realm of comfort and take a risk,” Mitte said. “’But you can’t let that fear rule your life.”
He described the fear one of his friends felt after applying for a job and not hearing back from the company for a while. Finally, Mitte’s friend was called to the office and told why he did not receive the position.
“They gave him a booklet of all his Facebook posts, all his tweets, everything he had posted online,” Mitte said.
He advised students to carefully monitor their online presence, explaining that even if a page says it is “private,” it might not be. Posting irresponsible or inappropriate content online can have severe consequences, according to Mitte.
“People can find you by the click of a button,” Mitte said, “and you have to be able to protect yourself and protect your family.”
He drew a parallel between protecting your loved ones and “Breaking Bad,” the AMC show Mitte co-starred on as Walt Jr., the son of a chemistry teacher turned drug manufacturer.
“The thing about ‘Breaking Bad’ which really is amazing is that it does have so much realism to the show,” Mitte said. “The main concept of it, to me in particular, is, ‘How far are you willing to go to provide for your family?’”
Mitte thinks the violence portrayed in the show is realistic, as well.
“I think the violence and what we showed in ‘Breaking Bad’ wasn’t gratuitous, it wasn’t over exaggerated,” he said. “We’re not in a soft environment. This world is very dangerous. We do have violence. We do have corruption, and we do have a lot of manipulation.”
Mitte encouraged students to fight against manipulation and fear by accepting the life path each individual is on and by remaining true to oneself.
“Don’t allow people to convince you that you’re wrong. Don’t allow people to manipulate you,” Mitte said. “If you continue to try to please other people, you will lose who you’re meant to be.”
*This story was originally published in The Signal.