We spoke with Virelle just a few years ago when we featured her as part of our 12 Days of Diabadass series. Virelle has such an inspirational and encouraging story to tell, so we wanted to pick up the story where we left off to glean more insight into where she is currently on her diabetes journey, and how far she’s come.
For Virelle, this health journey has been ever-changing, ongoing, and full of life lessons. Perhaps most importantly, she’s learned that it’s always best to keep from turning inward, even and especially during health challenges.
But How Did I Get Here?
A type 2 diabetes diagnosis later in life was a huge shock to Virelle. She’d reached a point where she hadn’t had any major health scares or diagnoses. As she learned, though, it’s never one precise moment that brings about these monumental health changes; it’s the small, daily, hidden build-up of an entire iceberg of health complications that eventually reach a tipping point.
For Virelle, it was an entire iceberg of mounting stress.
“My husband read one time, ‘stress releases the genetic box of illness.’ And that’s what happened with me. Way too much stress.”
For much of her adult life, Virelle played the role of caretaker (as both mother and daughter), full-time writer, and full-time traveler, among a host of other priorities on her to-do list. She and her husband, Steve, finally retired in Florida after deciding they both wanted to put each other first for the first time in their lives.
But soon after moving to Florida, Steve, a major, medal-winning athlete, had a massive heart attack. Not long after, Virelle’s brother passed away from brain cancer, followed by her mother. Those life-altering events, one after the other, pushed Virelle’s stress levels to the limit.
“I had already been living with years and years of stress with caregiving and work. I was a writer and a speaker; taking care of my mother and daughter; I was traveling all the time. And then losing my brother, my only sibling, and then my mother.
“The stress of all those things, you just don’t realize that your body feels it. When you think you’re managing it as well as you possibly can, well, your body may not actually be able to manage it. My blood work started coming back not so good, and I ate my way through grief after my brother died. I was depressed and didn’t even really know it.”
Embracing the Journey
Virelle has put in so much work over the past several years to learn, relearn, and continue learning about her diabetes. She’s the first to tell you that even when you think you’ve got it all figured it out, diabetes will surprise you with something you never saw coming.
“I ended up losing 25 pounds and my numbers went down to ‘normal’ and I was walking. I thought I was done with diabetes. But I found out diabetes is sneaky; health is sneaky, and I began to have health problems again.
“I think the deal with diabetes is that it has a mind of its own. It can be discouraging because even if you think you’re doing the right things, blood sugars can and will still go up.”
So often in life, we receive a diagnosis or an update on a condition and push it away, behind the other, more important stresses in life. Either because we think we’ve got the hang of it, or we don’t want to deal with it.
But it’s in these moments that we can (and should) embrace these red flags our bodies are frantically waving. Much like the iceberg of lifestyle situations that slowly grow into these conditions, the conditions have the potential to manifest tipping points of their own, ones that we may not be able to come back from.
But we—those of us living with diabetes, and any other chronic condition—have an opportunity to learn from our biomarkers; to take heed when our body sends us these chronic signals; to learn (and continue to learn) from our own bodies so that we can slowly start to heal.
Which is exactly what Virelle has done.
“I make it a daily mission to make the best of this diabetes journey. I don’t want to be defeated by it if I can help it and I don’t treat it lightly. I don’t ever forget about it. It’s a permanent fixture in my life.
“I really try to use my diabetes like a coach in a way, to help me do the best I can do, all of the time. Because that’s what it takes.”
Well And On Her Way
For Virelle, the secret to success on this diabetes journey is about taking it seriously and embracing it. To do that, she’s had to learn to put herself and her health first.
“I can’t control a lot of the stress that hits. But I can control what I do with myself, and I make sure I nurture my own soul every day. I put my own health right at the top. One thing I’m proud of is finally learning to put my own health first. It’s easy to put yourself last on the list when you have a lot of demands in your life, I get it, that was me.
“But you’ve got to learn to put yourself up at the top of your list. I put everything else at the top: my family first, then my writing. Everything and everyone was above me. Taking time for your own health—now, that’s an act of love because if you don’t do it, everyone around you is going to suffer.”
Virelle has found immense health success overall by cluing in to her diabetes and her body’s signals. That success comes in many different forms: better blood sugars, less stress, and simple, yet vital life learnings.
“If it weren’t for diabetes, I never would have gotten my eating and weight under control. But not only that. Diabetes has taught me how to not just face challenges, but prepare for them. I think it’s good to anticipate challenges. Challenges come whether you’re ready for them or not. It’s good to prepare ahead.”