The Art of Slowing Down - Kat Skoumbas’ Story and Life-Lessons from Dengue Fever
A tiny mosquito bite while on a family holiday ground everything to a screeching halt for Katerina. Infected with dengue fever, the 16 months that followed were to require some tough lifestyle changes for the high-achieving, Australian radio producer. Read about the valuable life-lessons the illness has taught her, and about discovering the art of rest.
There are moments in life when the universe flips everything on its head, and nothing is ever the same after that. For me, that moment was getting into a cab to take myself to the Intensive Care Unit at a Balinese hospital.
It all started in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on a family holiday with my husband and two kids. Three days of splitting headaches, high fevers, vomiting, diarrhoea and body aches simply led to the hotel doctor issuing me with some antibiotics. I started feeling better, so we continued our trip and got on our scheduled flight to Bali.
On arrival, however, something cautioned me to go for blood tests at the international hospital. And thats when it all came crashing down, with the hospital doctor screaming on speaker phone: Katerina, you have dengue fever AND typhoid! You are very sick! You must come back to the hospital immediately!
I ended up alone for four days in a hospital bed attached to an IV drip, overwhelmed by my desperate googling. Dengue is the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne disease in the world. An estimated 50 million cases occur globally every year. It can cause bleeding, shock and death. I was in trouble, and had to take this seriously.
Back home in Australia again, the first two weeks saw me trying to get back to my fast-paced normal life. At that point, wed just moved cities, and I was working long, stressful hours in a new role as a live radio producer, then coming home to two small girls who were settling into new schools - totally neglecting my husband, as well as my own needs!
Speaking to my dear friend, Yeshe, was a turning point. Twenty years ago, she got malaria and then dengue - twice! She didn't recover fully before carrying on with a busy life, having kids and building an amazing career. It left her with chronic fatigue, which is still a serious detriment to her daily life today.
In that short 15-minute phone call, she imparted so much wisdom, and convinced me to stay in bed for the next 30 days, at least! All my attention had to be on my health - my physical, emotional and mental health.
Readjusting my unsustainable lifestyle would prove to be the most challenging change Ive ever had to make. I had to force myself to take on a different pace, move slower. I had to avoid chronic illness.
So in a pre-Covid world, came the lessons on rest, slowing down and taking the time to really heal - something our culture doesnt really allow or encourage. In hindsight, I felt like Id been given a head-start to surviving lockdowns!
Physically, I was still dealing with bad headaches, serious fatigue and what I call brain fuzz - that tingling, zinging sensation clouding over my whole forehead.
But emotionally and mentally it was empowering, as it was the first time in my life that I gave myself permission to go slow. Time to do less, to just sit. I yanked my head out of the doing so I could step back into a life of being.
And once I stopped to look around, I saw how fast paced everyones lives were, how busy EVERYONE was ALL the time. No-one was resting.
Our culture, especially among women, rewards people for doing, achieving, and accomplishing. But how sustainable is this pace of doing? Don't we need to restore our energy in order to keep doing? Or have we built a torturous routine where were all running on empty?
No-one rewards you for resting, and no-one is talking about how damaging and unhealthy this is. Our younger generations need to see that its not possible to excel in all areas of life, all at the same time. Our kids can learn great life lessons by seeing us take time to rest and heal, and focus on one thing at a time.
Coming out of the fog of my fast-paced life was the greatest gift I could give to myself and to my family. I welcomed the love of just being alive in the moment. Slowly, the stress and suffering dissolved. Slowly, the energy began to come back. I was becoming a calmer Mama for my kids, and was able to enjoy richer moments with loved ones.
So, dear friend, amidst all the end-of-year madness, remember theres peace to be found if you shift your priorities and focus on a slower lifestyle. What if we were to let go of the should-dos and the should-haves? What if we were to go back to the really simple things in life? Ask yourself: What brings me joy? What am I grateful for? How do I want to spend my precious time? What can I let go of?
● Remember that you can say no to social invitations, whether they be live or via Zoom!
● Let go of the extra should-dos of the holiday season
● Give yourself permission to slow down & take time for YOU
● Do what makes you smile!
Its now been over 16 months since that mosquito bit me. Living with dengue fever continues to be a challenge, with fatigue every afternoon and headaches and brain fuzz every night. So everyday I try to surround myself with what nourishes me, and place realistic parameters so that I can make it through the week - choosing to be happy and making it fun.
I believe this pandemic has given us all an opportunity to shift our focus. In a world where we still face more unprecedented days, I like the idea that Mother Earth has sent us all to our rooms to think about what weve done, to slow down and reflect. But I also believe that shell be there to hold us lovingly when were ready to re-emerge. Will you respond to this opportunity, and re-imagine a slower, more sustainable life with me?
/Kat at Personal Planner
(These words are dedicated to my dear loved ones, especially my husband and two girls, as well as the others who were there for me when I was out of action. You know who you are.)
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