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“It takes a lot of time to be upset.”

Sherman thought that was a funny statement. But I was serious! This is just this logical person’s view on the chronos of emotions. Just try to quantify how much time being upset takes from your day—even if being upset’s a normal part of human existence.

Let’s say you’re rolling along following your schedule. You’re going to do this at such and such a time, that at another time, etc. You’ve got your eye on the clock, paying homage to chronos as you check things off your list. Then, boom, something happens to bring you out of your plans. And, if whatever occurs does not feel like good news, you can be thrown into kairos—and I don’t mean the pleasant side of kairos.

You may not know what chronos and kairos time are, but you’ve lived them. Chronos is quantifiable time while kairos is more qualitative, such as the times when you lose track of time. When experiences are enjoyable, we’d often rather stay in kairos even if we need to get back to reality and the inevitable marching of the clock’s hands. But when things don’t feel so well—say during childbirth or dental extractions—we’d be pretty happy for time to stop feeling so infinite to us.

In our DBT sessions, we are studying emotion regulation. Now, I might be tempted to think that I will do OK in this section because I consider myself to be a reasonably even-tempered person—except when it concerns my children. Which pretty much means I haven’t really been an even-tempered person for about seventeen years now. And probably won’t ever be again . . .

I looked at the homework for this week’s session and froze. I’m going to guess that the answers that might appear good to the world aren’t going to appear so great to a staff of therapists. The world seems to reward composure and “sucking it up”—yet those aren’t always healthy reactions, depending on the situation, of course.

Yet, my answers are what they are . . . for now. On the checklist I’m supposed to detail how easy it is—or not—to show certain emotions. Gosh, I like to keep things neutral and, a lot of times, outwardly, I succeed. That’s why when we had to draw the face we show to the world and the face we have inside, my worldly face was pretty complacent with a slight smile and a calm brow.

The inner face was neither. Christiana said, “Mom, is that Jekyll and Hyde?” Um, that wasn’t quite the effect I was going for. Then, sadly I realized it was more like that stupid doll my grandparents gave me one Christmas: Cheerful/Tearful. They said it reminded them of me! Full disclosure here: I’m not bipolar, just ADD—and people with ADD tend to be intense and reactive to their environments and others’ actions.

So maybe to avoid the Cheerful/Tearful label, I’ve learned to look neutral to pretty much everyone but those in my family. They know that I can be really happy or really unhappy—and it’s pretty much in response to something that’s going on in my life. I suppose the therapists at DBT would say that by trying to be all Switzerland about things, I run the risk of blowing my top or being really unhappy because I’m not being truthful about how I feel.

Let’s face it, taking time for emotions doesn’t seem like a very useful way to spend the kairos of my life. When will people like me learn to accept the logic that for every minute of chronos spent avoiding the kairos of the messy sides of life, down the road it’s going to take exponentially more chronos to get out of the kairos moments of facing what can never really be buried for good?

I still think it takes too much time to be upset, but maybe it’s the only way to get to the next step—and learn how to both experience and demonstrate the cheerful side within me.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert