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Why I Love the Concept of Leap Day as Someone With Multiple Sclerosis

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I love Leap Day.

Or, to be more specific, I love the concept of it.

Every four years, you are gifted 24 extra hours.

How to spend that extra time?

Sleep? Try out a new hobby? Learn a magic trick? Read that book you’ve been meaning to? Binge watch a new TV show? Take the dog for two walks? Go on a new adventure with the family? Re-watch a Super Bowl from the Washington Redskins’ glory days?

OK, maybe that last one is me-centric… but, the possibilities are endless.

Unfortunately, the reality is Leap Day will come and go mostly unnoticed. Work, family, social engagements and just life in general will easily fill in those two dozen additional hours.

What really intrigues me about Leap Day is that it only happens every four years.

I view it as a marker. A big, bright, blinking yellow construction zone marker in your life.

What have you done with your life in the past four years? Are you any different? Have you improved or remained stagnant?

Not only is it an opportunity to review how far you’ve come (or not) but it’s also a chance to contemplate where you’d like to be when the next one comes around in February 2024.

Back in Leap Year 2016, I was 39 years old and only had 10 months left of being a 30-something.

Long gone was my corporate career — replaced by writing, helping the kiddos with homework, doing jigsaw puzzles and occasionally baking my family a sweet treat.

I had recently met with my neurologist and agreed to stop IVIG therapy. What a relief that was! No more need for monthly infusions that wiped me out mentally, physically and emotionally. I still had to do daily shots, but was relieved to close the book on IVIG.

Four years later, I continue to write and have even mixed in a little podcasting, too.

My multiple sclerosis (MS) treatment has also gotten easier. No more shots, now just an oral medication.

You’ll still find me helping the kiddos with homework (although that’s not as easy anymore — hello Geometry flashbacks!), doing puzzles and baking.

But that’s only a snapshot of my life.

The larger reality is, at 43 years old, I feel much more confident in who I am and where I’m going.

Do I sometimes worry about my future health?

Of course. Everybody does, whether or not they have a chronic disease.

Do I ever get frustrated with my limitations?

Absolutely. I’m independent, comically stubborn and don’t like to be seen as a weak link. If I fall, I quickly say, “I’m OK!” whether I am or not because the last thing I ever want is someone to feel the need to rush to my aid.

But, in 2020, I’m owning who I am. Much more than I was in 2016.

I’m not perfect and still have brief moments of being embarrassed or worried about what others — my family, friends or even complete strangers — think.

More often, though, I’m at peace with limping around from “foot drop,” resting my body when I need to or taking breaks when I get vertigo. MS is a chronic disease that requires a lot of grinning and bearing it through pain or various odd sensations.

And yes, I have a handicap placard. On financial forms, my occupation is “disabled.” Taking medicine, visiting specialists and having MRIs will always be a large part of my life.

But that doesn’t mean I still can’t kick ass at life while tending to my MS. And that’s what I hope I’m doing.

About four years ago, I had both of our children write their future selves a leap letter. It was their own little time capsule, not to be opened until 2020.

I told them to give their future selves some advice, recount their favorite song, food, movie or just tell a funny joke.

I don’t know what they wrote and I doubt they even remember. But on Saturday morning, we’ll crack open a portal to 2016.

We’ll be amused by how their handwriting has changed since first and third grade. Laugh at whether the jokes aged well. And, for a moment, remember how different (or similar) things were four years ago.

My hope is this fun experience will help convey that life is a long journey with many chapters. Don’t waste time making concrete plans. Life has an ironic way of laughing at the best laid ones.

Set goals. Be audacious, confident and always true to yourself. Be accountable for your own actions. Never forget to have fun and be silly on your, often wild and windy, road to success.

And always take time to reflect on who you are now and where you’ve been. Always take that time — no matter how busy life gets.

If nothing else, you’ll always have a built-in marker every four years.

Originally published: February 29, 2020
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