today is May 23, 2022

Georgie Darling in Indonesia Show caption ‘I feel almost embarrassed about my previous criticisms of myself’ … Georgie Darling in Indonesia. Photograph: Courtesy of Georgie Darliing
A moment that changed me

After days of shivering and vomiting, I began admiring my ability to fight off illness, rather than worrying about the size of my thighs

Georgie Darling

Wed 23 Mar 2022 07.00 GMT

I felt quite smug moving from London to Bali, Indonesia, in January 2020. I had left my stressful job as an editor in order to pursue a freelance career from a sunnier climate for a few months. Things took an unexpected turn when the pandemic began and international flights stopped. I felt quite smug again 18 months later, having finally popped back to the UK for six weeks, when I managed to leave shortly before the Omicron wave hit towards the end of last year.

But then, on a New Year’s Eve trip to the beautiful Nusa islands, just off Bali, I was bitten by one mosquito too many. I found myself hospitalised not with Covid, but with dengue fever.

I had been living in Indonesia for almost two years and had contracted dengue fever before, in May 2020. It was manageable: a week in bed with the lights off and plenty of nutrients was all I needed to recover. This time was different.

Dengue fever is a virus that causes a high fever, headache, vomiting, muscle and joint pains and a skin rash. Get it once and, while you certainly won’t enjoy it, you will probably be fine. Get it a second time and there is a significant chance of it becoming much more serious, leading to dengue haemorrhagic fever, where your blood thins and can leak from your veins.

I watched, in agony, as my body struggled to cope. A splitting headache exploded across my temples and refused to waver. The aches were akin to the most intense workout – and then some. Sickness and nausea left me incapable of doing any more than sipping rehydration drinks or sucking ginger sweets.

I was five days into this when I tried to sit up in bed and experienced stomach pains so severe that they made me cry out, tears streaming down my face. I called the hospital.

This is a common symptom of severe dengue and can be an indication that you have reached haemorrhaging point. Ambulances aren’t easy to arrange in Indonesia (especially when your Indonesian lessons haven’t reached that part of the curriculum), so my partner called a taxi. As my stomach pains intensified, we rushed to the hospital.

My stay there was brief, but harrowing. Next to me, behind a half-closed curtain, was a middle-aged man who had gone blue in the face. A shrieking woman was hurriedly pushed out of the way as paramedics struggled to access an airway. Opposite, a tiny child, all alone, was hooked up to an oxygen machine.

I spent days in and out of fevers, shivering and vomiting. When finally I began to recover, though, I started to view myself in a completely different light.

I had never had a good relationship with my body, struggling through diets, exercise regimes and unhealthy comparisons for as long as I could remember. From as young as six or seven, I had critiqued my body, comparing it with those of my school friends.

It never really stopped. As I got older, I tried fasting, calorie counting, cutting out carbs and exercising for hours at a time. I would walk home from the gym feeling woozy and lightheaded, proud of having exhausted my body. I only ever though about my body with hatred and despair.

But, struck down in bed, undergoing regular blood tests and IV drips, comparison was the last thing on my mind. It felt stupid to worry about the size of my thighs or the circumference of my waist rather than my ability to build up platelets and recover from an awful illness.

I wouldn’t call it a brush with death, but my stint in a Balinese hospital showed me that my body is something to appreciate, to be grateful for and to admire. I am thankful for it – and seriously proud of everything it can do.

Having recovered from a virus that many do not, I feel almost embarrassed about my previous criticisms of myself. Now, treating my body badly – a luxury that many do not get – would feel like a complete waste. It deserves nothing but my respect.

It survived dengue fever twice – and that will always be more important than what it looks like on the outside.

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