Tips for Surviving the Not-So-Merry Month of May

Disclaimer: unless you are now — or have at some time been — an expatriate living overseas, you may or may not “get” this post. Then again, transition happens to all of us, doesn’t it? (Maybe just not in May. Every year in May.)


This morning, I took one last walk with a dear friend and walking partner. And remembered again why May is officially my least favorite month of the year.

It hasn’t always been this way. I used to love May! School winding down, summer (and camp season!) just around the corner, everything greening up. And to top it off, my birthday! Yep, May was pretty merry when I was growing up.

But as an expat living overseas, May went from the month of celebrations and anticipation to a month of… well, leavings and goodbyes. In May, the social landscape goes through tectonic upheaval that won’t settle down until August. And it’s like this every year.

What a strange lifestyle, these scheduled uprootings. Even my body knows the cycle now. May comes and I seem to have this continual knot in my stomach and dull headache of dread for all the goodbyes.

What can be done? (Well, besides taking some aspirin and just slogging through it…) As I felt the onset of “goodbye season” yet again this year, I decided to start making a list of potential stepping stones through the “not-so-merry month of May”. And I’m hoping you’ll help me add to it.

  • Write a note. Taking time to celebrate relationships doesn’t make it hurt less… but it reminds me why the goodbyes hurt, and that that is actually a good thing. A friend’s words from years ago still ring in my ears: “Wouldn’t it be sad if it didn’t hurt at all?”
  • Play the piano. (Or whatever instrument your equally stressed family is willing for you to play.) Bach is my composer of choice — very structured and calming, but complex enough that I can’t think about anything else while I play.
  • Take a breath. Or two. Or three. Do you forget to breathe sometimes, or is it just me? I’m discovering that breathing is a good thing… and it helps to calm me down.
  • Make a list. It’s awfully easy to myopically focus on what I’m losing. A list of thanksgivings helps me remember all I have been given.
  • Cry. I’m not good at this (blame it on my Myers-Briggs type), but I’m getting better. Like the first point, it doesn’t make anything hurt less, but it’s great for clearing out the sinuses. (Which, unfortunately, have also developed a dislike of May.)
  • Take a walk. Even if it’s just to the gate. Preferably at night, when I can look up and see the stars and remember the One who calls each one by name.

So, what would you add to this list of survival tactics?