Sisters for life
Megan Bergeson has had a lot on her mind this week, with her usual studies as a Bemidji State senior and the opening of the Beavers’ softball season.
Tuesday was a good day, with the former New London-Spicer student-athlete collecting three hits in three Beavers victories at the West St. Paul Dome, including two hits and the game-winning RBI in BSU’s 1-0 win over Jamestown State in the team’s first game of the season.
But she’s had other things going on that are vastly more important to her, namely helping to organize a BSU forum as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which runs through Saturday. The target audience of the forum was students, student athletes and those planning careers in coaching, sports and exercise sciences and other fields working with youth.
Megan was motivated to get involved since her older sister, Bridget, has been battling an eating disorder and other related complications for several years.
“It’s been hard,” Megan, 22, said of her 23-year-old sister. “This is a person I’ve grown up with my whole life and at 16, 17 she just drifted off and became a different person. (Eating disorders) changed her personality.”
Megan has played a major role on BSU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, serving as vice president last year and president this year. She helped organize a suicide prevention program previously and the NED Awareness Week campaign was an obvious choice to focus on this year.
Her softball coach said Megan could miss the six season-opening games in St. Paul to attend the forum, but Megan didn’t want to leave the team in a lurch, and she’s also in pursuit of a career record for games played. While unable to attend Tuesday’s forum, she recorded a video introduction and had the forum recorded so she could watch later.
Megan’s and Bridget’s mother, Melissa Bergeson, said she couldn’t be more proud of both of them.
Bridget is in a treatment program in St. Louis and is committed to her fight. Melissa and Megan said it was Bridget who took the lead in seeking treatment, understanding that she needed help. Megan has been supportive in ways beyond the BSU forum, Melissa said.
“I’m pretty proud of what Megan is doing at Bemidji State,” Melissa said. “It lets you know that those students are using (college) as a springboard to do positive things and that it’s not just all about athletics.”
Bridget and Megan were active, healthy students, participating in softball, tennis and hockey. Bridget’s eating disorder “started innocently,” Melissa said.
“She thought she was a little chubby and she wanted to lose some weight,” Melissa said. “With all the pressure to be perfect, (eating) is the one thing they can control.”
But the illness progressed – the binge eating, purging – and Bridget lost 25 to 30 pounds her last two years of high school. She denied it was a problem, Melissa said.
“As a parent, you listen to what they say because that’s what you want to hear,” Melissa said. “You don’t want to hear that your daughter has a mental illness.”
Bridget went to Ridgewater College to play softball for a year, then went to BSU, too. But the ED led to other problems as her physical and mental systems broke down.
“Their emotional development stops,” Melissa said. “When anything stresses you out, you cope by drinking or binging and purging. You don’t learn how to cope with daily stress.”
“When she was an athlete, she was always getting tired more easily,” Megan said. “(ED) wore her down in every way.”
But Bridget finally made the decision to get help, Megan said.
“I didn’t have to do anything to make her do it,” she said. “My sister wanted to go (to treatment) and stay. It was her decision to try get better. It’s like you kind of have to hit rock bottom before you can get better”
While Bridget works on her ED illness the family must contend with related issues, such as insurance and how to pay for treatment that can be expensive. Bridget has a good local therapist and the St. Louis program is helping, but it’s those times alone that still concern the family, Melissa said.
“She’s fine in treatment,” she said. “It’s when she comes home … .”
Megan maintains a positive outlook as her sister’s battle continues.
“She’s opening up a lot more,” Megan said. “There is a lot of stuff behind ED and that’s what she’s dealing with right now. Every day is a new day. Sometimes it’s a bad day, sometimes it’s a good day. But it’s all progress.”