It is possible that not all is well in your life at the moment. You may have felt a discord, a disharmony. You may feel down, fed up, disheartened. And it’s not just you, but your co-workers, your family, your children are not quite themselves. There is depression in the air. Welcome to gogatsu byou.
Gogatsu byou, or May sickness, is a common malaise that affects millions of Japanese every year, particularly following the Golden Week holidays. While there are a few causes, the main reason behind May sickness is the stresses and strains associated with new beginnings. April in Japan is the start of the new school year, the time when companies take on university graduates and a time when existing staff are reassigned to new departments.
For those concerned this is a time of great stress and upheaval. Initially however it is often masked by the feelings of positivity and optimism that often accompany a fresh start. But soon, an enthusiastic April turns to a miserable May as the initial elation begins to wane. This comedown can manifest itself in various ways; from a general malaise and lack of motivation to severe sleep loss and extreme lack of appetite.
Perhaps those hardest hit by May sickness are the newcomers to the workforce. These fresh-faced men and women have spent their entire lives gearing up for this time: the cram schools, the university exams, the seemingly endless employment seminars. They have finally found their niche in the work force. Their suits are shiny and black. They have business cards, they are meeting clients. They have had one month in this exciting new world and now it is starting to sink in. The suit has lost some of its lustre, the rush hour is a grind. This life, this world, is it. Forever. And who can blame them if the fear is setting in, the crushing realization that the attainment of their dreams is dragging them to the depths of despair.
While these young men and women face the most extreme cases of May sickness, sometimes to the point of tendering their resignation, it is not only those who face upheaval in the workplace who are affected. As well as a marked dropping off in university attendances, many regular workers fall prone to gogatsu byou, as it is often contracted on the final days of Golden Week. As you are probably already too painfully aware, holiday time is minimal in Japan, and the concentrated grouping of national holidays in early May is a great time to unwind. However, the day always comes when it is time to again don the suit and company pin, and it is perhaps okay to resent the onset of rush hour traffic, so much so, that pulling ‘sickies’ is not uncommon, despite the usual Japanese distain for this practice.
But before you start feeling sorry for yourself and take your self-diagnosed sickness to the nearest hospital, you should be aware that gogatsu byou is not a sickness at all, but rather a disorder, and as such there is no medicine, no surgery, no cure. All there is to do is to toughen up, stiffen one’s upper lip and pull one’s self together. It’s time to just get on with it and face work head on, as you always have done. And besides, June is just around the corner bringing the rainy season with it. Which is another cheery thought. Perhaps it is time to apply for that leave of absence after all.
By Mark Guthrie