by Melissa Brunner
Ten years ago, we did a recurring featured titled, "Ordinary Kansans." The idea was borrowed from the fantastic CBS News reporter Steve Hartman and his "Everybody Has a Story" segment, where he'd toss a dart, then go to the community on which it landed and randomly choose a person from the phone book to interview.
That is how we first came to meet the Bollinger family in July 2003, Tim and Lynette and their then-teenaged daughters, Megan and Ashley. I remember their huge garden and the girls driving a few golf balls in the backyard. The story we uncovered? Shortly after they had set their wedding date 19 years earlier, the pastor was charged with his wife's murder. Yes, they were a footnote in the infamous Thomas Bird murder case.
Fast forward to summer 2014. It was a pleasant surprise to receive an email from Megan, who is now 26. She reminded me of our first meeting then explained how, a few years later, her own story changed dramatically.
It is that story we recently returned to Emporia to document and that we shared with you Thursday evening on 13 News at 6 and 10. In a matter of months, Megan went from a petite 115 pounds to a literally-deadly 76 pounds. It happened one fall semester at KU and it started with a simple goal of dedicating herself to a healthy lifestyle.
It took incredible strength for Megan to share her story. She says she wanted to put a face on eating disorders. They are considered the deadliest of all mental illnesses. After all, in the case of anorexia especially, which is what Megan developed, the only outcome if it is not overcome is death. It is a timely topic, too, since experts say eating disorders are trending upward again. Hospitalizations increased 18 percent from 1999 to 2006. Among people under the age of 12, the increase was 119 percent.
What struck me most about Megan's journey is the answer to the question of why she did it. I think most people believe an eating disorder stems from a desire to lose weight or from some trauma or abuse that was endured. This was not the case with Megan. She says she has a wonderful family and enjoyed a life as free of bumps in the road as anyone might wish. What she did have a personality that tilted toward some commonalities seen in patients with eating disorders. She can be obsessive, she says, and is driven by perfectionism. If she was going to eat healthy and stick to an exercise plan, then she was going to be the very definition of healthy living. When people noticed and envied her discipline, it fueled her desire to be even better. Before long, it spiraled out of control.
I didn't say very many words in the more than half hour Megan spoke of her journey. Her parents say hearing her speak still reveals new information about just how far she had fallen into the grasp of the disease. They also couldn't be more proud of her for speaking out, so that other families have the information they did not. Since Megan has gone public, they say many people have reached out to them
Megan is five years down the road of recovery. Each day, she says, brings it's own struggles. The very thing that once terrified her - food - is the very thing that keeps her alive. She says there is no cure, but there is the ability to not let the illness control your life. She believes she is at a good point in maintaining control.
Still, the scariest may be yet to come. Megan spent four months hospitalized and continues therapy. She returned home for her recovery. This fall, she will return to KU. She hopes to earn her degree and, one day, work with people who are recovering from eating disorders. Her parents admit it makes them nervous to send her back out on her own, but they also realize this is part of the process of moving forward. This time, they say, they have the benefit of experience to guide them.
While I am sorry that our path's crossed again for such a painful experience, I also came away inspired by Megan's determination, not only to recover herself but also to help others. She wants you to know that she is willing to speak to any group who would find value in hearing her story. She also wants you to know that, if you suspect someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, talk to them. Be caring and be persistent. I asked if she would have listened had someone been more persisten with her. The truth, she says, is she doesn't know. She might have. And, because of that possibility, she believes in educating people on the signs and symptoms so there is a chance they can help someone find help before it's too late.
If you missed Megan's stories or would like to share them with someone you know, you can find them at this link.
I am anxious to see what the next decade of Megan's story brings. I hope it's filled with amazingly positive stories.