The only crutches in R.J. Mitte’s life these days are his family and friends.
Like his character, Walter Jr., in the Emmy Award-winning drama “Breaking Bad,” Mitte has cerebral palsy, though a milder form of the disorder.
The 21-year-old actor and disability-rights advocate was at Harper College in Palatine Tuesday night, Oct. 8 discussing how to overcome adversity, particularly in relation to disabilities.
He talked about his life with cerebral palsy and explained how the constant contraction of his muscles affects his movement.
“My brain doesn’t tell my body what to do,” he said. “I have to physically force myself to do things.”
Yet he takes it all it stride .“I don’t know any other life. This is who I am.”
Doctors diagnosed Mitte with cerebral palsy at age 3. Initially they tried to straighten his feet by putting them in casts. He wore leg braces and used crutches for most of his childhood.
“Everything you think can of, I had the pleasure of working with,” Mitte said.
But sports and regular exercise made his body stronger and, in his early teens, he shed all walking devices.
For his role in “Breaking Bad,” Mitte learned to walk with forearm crutches, as well as how to slur his speech.
He continues to do physical therapy daily, a regimen that includes lifting a 60-pound sandbag over his head and teetering on a balance board. Lots of yoga and stretching also help loosen his muscles.
“It is such a strenuous thing,” he said of cerebral palsy. “But if you can manage it and control it, you can own your own life.”
“Like anyone else” — at its core, that is Mitte’s message to others.
Though he lives with a disorder he isn’t looking for sympathy; after all, he said, we all have our struggles.
“Everyone is disabled in their own way, and have their own issues to work through, mental or physical, with some worse than others,” he said.
“Having a disability does not mean that you are disabled. You are capable of anything.”