SEROTONIN AND CHEMICAL IMBALANCES

The depression I suffered during the spring of my first season introduced me to the idea that I might have a chemical imbalance in my body — a lack of the neurotransmitter serotonin, the chemical responsible for maintaining mood. Oddly enough, it was how I began to interact with women that hinted to me that something was wrong.

One evening, I was out on a date with the redhead. We began at the movies, with dinner to follow. After the movie, we were standing outside the theater when she noticed that I had become quiet and distant.

“What’s wrong?”

“I guess it was the movie,” I lied.

“Where do you want to eat?”

“I don’t know.” A long, dead silence followed. “You know what? I think I’m just going to go home.”

I hailed a cab and left her standing on the street corner, confused and hurt. Later, I tried to explain to her that I just didn’t feel well, that it wasn’t her – it was me, which, of course, sounded like what guys say when they are dumping a girl, which only confused her more. I couldn’t seem to put into words what I was feeling – how sad I’d felt in that moment and how I didn’t really know why I was sad. I didn’t see her. I didn’t see her feelings. I didn’t see anything except a cold, gray haze that covered everything. She suspected, of course, that I was off to see another woman. No. I was going home to sit by myself and eat pizza.

Similar incidents occurred with other women. A very nice woman I had taken out a few times made me dinner at her home; I canceled at the last minute because I couldn’t manage to get out the door. Another woman I had begun dating over the summer, eager to have me meet her friends, invited me to a dinner party. I stood her up, too depressed to get dressed. Still another wanted to come over my apartment for sex. We stood on the corner on a warm July evening. 

“Why don’t I come over later and we can have some fun.”

I looked at this tall, athletic, good looking woman,who liked me and wanted to spend time with me and said, “I’m not really in the mood.” That was when I knew there was something seriously wrong. Here was a stunning woman offering me sex with no strings and no hassle. (I knew, of course, that there were going to be strings and hassle – there always are – but I would worry about all of that later.) This woman and I had flirted all summer and had spent a couple fun evenings together. I had wanted her badly. But that evening, my mood was such that I chose to sit alone in my apartment rather than have a night of marathon sex with a strong, healthy, good looking woman. Brother, that was when I knew I needed help.

I headed back to my therapist, who suggested that I might have a chemical imbalance. “There is something called serotonin,” he began. “Serotonin is a chemical that our bodies make that acts to regulate our moods.”

I stared at him blankly.

He continued, “When you don’t have enough serotonin, you get depressed. There are some people whose bodies don’t make enough of this chemical, so they get depressed for long periods of time. But there are medicines, anti-depressants, that you can take that will boost your level of serotonin.”

“You mean like drugs?” I was suspicious. 

“Not in the way you mean. They don’t make you high, they adjust a chemical imbalance in your body.”

No way!” The idea was outrageous and, frankly, a bit frightening. I wasn’t interested. Pills were for crazy people — people who stayed in their pajamas, chain smoked, and didn’t get out of bed. That wasn’t me! From time to time, I felt sad and I didn’t know why, that was all. I didn’t need to be medicated. I would work it out myself. He dropped the subject.

I convinced myself that it was a matter of diet, you know, blood sugar. Depression meant that I didn’t eat and when I didn’t eat, my blood sugar dropped and I just got more depressed. Therefore, all I had to do was eat regularly — and better — and I would be okay. I was strong; I could fight this thing without crazy pills! What I didn’t realize at the time was that the rationalizations I was making are the same ones many men battling depression make. Men say to themselves, “If I seek help, people will think I am a weak man.” Or, “I just need to get more fresh air.” Or “I need to eat better.”  No doubt, some of that may be true. Diet and exercise do help regulate moods. However, if one is suffering from clinical depression, which I was, those things will help, but will not solve the problem. Of course, I didn’t know any of that at the time, so I plowed forward, determined to work myself out of my funk.

I made it through the summer and by the fall, the beginning of my second season, things were much better.  I had even managed to find a new girlfriend.

I met Lee while doing a personal appearance at the Indianapolis Black Expo.  (Mike Tyson would be accused of rape while appearing at the same expo the following year.) Lee was fun! Lee had been a professional tennis player. She had a great sense of humor and laughed all the time. She was a terrific spirit, which made it difficult to remain down when I was with her.  We began spending all our time together. Lee taught me to play tennis, but Lee also taught me something much more important: it is impossible to remain sad when you skip. You can’t frown when you skip because skipping makes you smile. Lee believed in positive self-talk, and skipping was a part of that.  Lee told me over and over that the things we tell ourselves begin to manifest themselves in our lives. “If your self-talk is negative,” she said, “negative things will happen.” I can’t recommend positive self-talk enough. All of us need cheerleaders. Lee always said, “Who better to cheer you on than the person who should be your biggest fan – you!” Whenever Lee saw me begin to drift into the blues, she would just take my hand and we would skip. In an instant, my mood would change. If you can skip, life can’t be that bad.

I also learned that sometimes I didn’t feel like skipping, damn it!  Ultimately, there was not enough skipping or positive self-talk to keep us together. By Christmas, our affair had burned itself out – at least for me.

As Lee and I split, I began speaking to the redhead again.  I bumped into her while shopping in a record store off of Union Square.  In the months since we had last been in touch, she had begun graduate school and had taken the job at the record store to help pay for tuition.  I was surprised when I turned around and saw her.

“Hi!” She had a big smile on her face.

“Hi. What are you doing here?” She had put on a few pounds, but was still as cute as ever. I wanted to see her again.

She cautiously agreed to meet me for dinner, where I assured her that I wasn’t trying to plunge back into a romantic relationship. I liked her and wanted to try and develop a real friendship with her. If the friendship didn’t evolve, I told her, I would accept that; I liked her and would be happy to be her friend. I had learned a hard lesson the prior year:  I didn’t like the feeling of making so many women angry with me and I liked even less the feeling of hurting their feelings, especially by being a liar and a cheat.  I had been faithful to Lee and I wanted to be faithful to whomever came after her.

So, the redhead and I spent time together and spoke on the phone, mindful of not moving forward too fast.  Ivory, never able to stay angry with me for too long, also came back into my life as a friend. I made a few other friends. Corey and I even decided to give it another go, a bad idea that was even worse when put into practice. But I had dismantled the revolving door to my bedroom. I didn’t enter the priesthood, but I was trying to be better in hopes that I might feel better.

It didn’t entirely work.

Next…Fine Ass Lisa Bonet


About Author

Joseph C. Phillips

Joseph C. Phillips was born on January 17, 1962 in Denver, Colorado, USA as Joseph Connor Phillips. He is an actor, known for General Hospital (1994), The Cosby Show (1984) and Strictly Business (1991). He has been married to Nicole since 1994. They have three children.

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