May: the fifth month of the year.
Mayhem: violent or damaging disorder; chaos.
For me, the month of May is one of emotional chaos, characterized by a lot of excess emotions which often materialize in the form of tears.
There are tears at reasonable, expected times. For example, at Daphne’s First Communion last Sunday, tears of pride and joy threatened to send my mascara streaming down my cheeks. And there were a lots of tears the week before when the newborn calf I was trying to bottle-feed stepped on my broken toe.
But there are tears at seemingly unreasonable, unexpected times, too. Like when I went through the pictures from Daphne’s First Communion and found that not a single picture of our family turned out nice. In every photo, somebody either blinked, wasn’t looking at the camera, or wasn’t smiling. And, the most unreasonable of all: last Friday, Tractor Day at school made me cry.
The hardest part of having all these excess emotions at unexpected times is understanding where they’re coming from. Why on earth would Tractor Day make me cry? And this is hardly the first time. I remember dropping Dan off at pre-school, seeing all of the tractors driving into the school parking lot, and then sobbing the whole drive home. I think the intense emotions stem from the gratitude I feel about living in and raising my kids in a community where agriculture is celebrated, but I hardly believe Tractor Day should completely wreck me.
I’ve decided there’s just something about May. As I look back at the years, which is challenging because they seem to fly by so fast, I remember past Mays also being filled with excess emotions – not just on Tractor Day.
Maybe it’s the sunshine and beautiful weather, the fresh air perfumed by blossoming lilacs and apple trees. These are the days when working outside is the best. The perfect temperatures and longer daylight lure us into thinking that we’ll be able to get so much done that day. And then we don’t, because we overestimated the number of hours in the day. Or our plans got derailed by this, that, and every other thing that came up unexpectedly.
One of my favorite definitions of contentment is that it is the sum of our reality minus our expectations. [Reality – Expectations = Contentment]. So when our expectations exceed our reality, we tend to experience the opposite of contentment: dissatisfaction, unrest, and other negative thoughts and feelings. I constantly remind myself to keep my expectations realistic, but those reminders are blunted by the trademark farmers’ hope that surges highest in the month of May.
It certainly doesn’t help that the list of things to do in May seems disproportionately larger than other months. Pastures to ready. Crops to plant. Heifers to move. Yards to tidy. Gardens to tend. On top of the extra cows calving and the building project we have underway. Plus, we are lucky to live in a community that offers our kids a wealth of activities to experience – a bunch of which happen in May.
But, expectations and to-do lists aside, I’ve felt for the past couple years that there’s something else going that makes May so emotional. Something I can’t put my finger on.
This year, I decided to do what I usually do when befuddled: turn to research. For me, understanding why something is happening makes it easier to accept and then find solutions. In this case, my research led to remarkable insight.
Here’s what I found: It’s highly likely that my excess emotions are linked to my seasonal allergies. According to the studies I read, seasonal allergies lead to increased systemic inflammation, and inflammation leads to sleep disturbances and mood disorders.
This makes so much sense, I can hardly believe I am only discovering the connection now. Since at least middle school, I have been afflicted by seasonal allergies each spring. It never occurred to me that what was happening in my sinuses was having an impact on my mood.
The studies on seasonal allergies and mood disorders also linked the pollen-heavy spring season to increased rates of suicide and suicide attempts. Seasonal allergies, the study said, are not the only cause of suicidal behavior, but they should be considered a significant contributor.
Which is quite possibly why May is Mental Health Awareness Month. So let me remind you: Everyone should be aware of their own mental health and the mental health of those around them. Do you – or someone you love – seem to have a lot of intense emotions right now? It’s essential to ask why. Our mental health often has biological causes that we can address.
One final thought: Whenever I would ask my physical therapist if my increased shoulder pain was from X, Y, or Z, she would always say, “It’s probably a combination of all of those things.” I’ve decided that “a combination of all of those things” is likely the appropriate explanation for my increased emotions this month, as well.
As easy and freeing as it feels to blame my emotional intensity on my allergies, it would be unrealistic to ignore the mental and emotional impact of May’s mile-long list of things to do and my unrealistic expectations about getting it all done.
So, going forward, I am going to be more accepting of May’s emotional mayhem. And I am definitely going to do some additional research on managing my allergies. But I am also going to continue looking for ways to keep my expectations realistic and my workload manageable.
There’s hope for happier Mays.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children – Dan, 13, Monika, 11, and Daphne, 7. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.