It seems as if, in some ways, Leap day possess an eerie, mystical, time-warping quality. It holds a place on our calendars because of decisions made by Roman emperors wielding absolute authority thousands of years ago. We still measure time and space by their ancient governance. Their influence remains ever-present and barely noticed, but on one day every four years, this decree by Julius Caesar almost bends the universe.
There was something strange and secretive in the air when I sucked in my first breath of the morning on February 29th. It felt as though the uniquely extra day hung suspended in its own plane of existence. To step out of bed was to cross into another dimension, one that could only be entered every four years and could only be dwelt in for a brief twenty-four hours. At the stroke of midnight, the portal would close, and all would be just as it was before. While in this dimension, though, February 29th, 2012 happened only yesterday, and tomorrow would give rise to the year 2020.
On Monday morning, I turned myself out of bed and placed my feet on the carpeted floor. It was the same beige-colored, worn pile that I tread the previous day. It was also the place where I knelt four years ago and tearfully begged God to bring an end to my suffering. One way or another. That winter was a brutal one. It was particularly snowy, and the burden of flu and respiratory illness was heavy on everyone. The bitter sting of the cold and the darkness of the shortened days were nothing compared to the hatred, pain, anger, and fear that I was carrying in my heart. For reasons that would be too complex to delve into, work was unforgiving during that month of February 2012. I was logging 100-hour weeks, and I held the life and death of people who trusted me in my hands every day. My own life teetered precariously on a ledge. Self-care was an unknown concept for me for most of my life. At that time, pain, suffering, and anxiety were measures of effort. And, oh, was I exceeding maximum effort. Yet, it was unfathomable to imagine relinquishing even a modicum of control or resting for even the briefest moment. Death was preferable to showing any weakness. Keenly aware of all my inadequacies and failures, I would rather dig my own grave and cover myself over than ever allow another soul to perceive me as less than perfect. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I berated myself incessantly. Nothing that I did was ever good enough, and I hated myself with a venomous passion. Nothing that anyone else did ever satisfied my standards, either, and I hated the world.
Disappointment and failure were my constant companions. Suicidal? Yes. To yield to those thoughts would be to accept my defeat, though. It was the only time that I ever actually retreated to the bathroom, locked the door behind me, and slid to the floor, collapsing into a heaving pile of tears (while at work, at least). Then, I washed my face, and I carried on. Though I screamed inside, “Why won’t anyone do anything? Why won’t anyone help me?” I never asked. I never reached out, and I never let anyone past my barricades. The cracks were clearly visible. A mentor pulled me aside one day, as the pace was lessening, and advised me that I needed to pull it together in the future. Raging and seething and destroying myself internally, I carried on. Amazingly, astoundingly, that month was not my “rock bottom.” I binged occasionally, but my disordered eating never reached the severity that it would two years later when I did finally hit my “rock bottom.” In the interceding interval, my situation dramatically improved, and my life became much more manageable for a time. It would take a great deal more than the suffering of February 2012 to bring about my near-destruction.
Reflecting on that month, I was astounded by my strength. My main coping skills were avoidance, denial, anger, hatred, psychological self-abuse, and my disordered eating. They were all I knew. Yet, I not only survived, I excelled at my job. The weight of the obstacles I faced was crushing, and I overcame them by sheer determination and the force of my spite. In the bizarre universe of leap days, I found a backwards gratitude for my poisonous emotions and my self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. They kept me alive, and they made me more than successful. The course I was on led me down the path that put me in a place where, when my “rock bottom” happened, I was able to obtain the help that I needed to begin to recover. Reaching across the curvilinear span of years, I saw the hand of God artistically weaving all the pieces together. Artistic like Picasso’s cubist works – a jumble of fractured shapes coming together to form something more. Getting help required recognizing my toxic emotions for what they were, methods of self-protection and avoidance. More devastatingly, it meant showing my imperfections to others and embracing my complete lack of control and my utter terror in the face of profound uncertainty. To make a trite analogy, it took a desperate leap of faith. It didn’t feel quite as graceful as an orchestrated leap, however. It was more akin to a pathetic and despairing flinging of my weakened, broken body into the abyss. The journey from that point was painful in a different way, but in the last two years, I finally started to let go of all of the bile I was clinging to. Finally, I began to love. On February 29th, 2016, I found myself with an open, mindful, grateful heart, awed and inspired by my relentless, merciless, fractured, persevering, gunner self of yesterday.
When I awake on February 29th, 2020, will I gaze upon the same white, textured ceiling? Will my toes curl into a slightly more worn, beige carpet? Will I know myself any better than I do today? Will I be the same person that I am right now? Where will I find myself on this confusing, circuitous, confounding journey? The vortex is closed now, and I am placing one foot at a time, trying to find the next best thing. Until tomorrow, then…