Lynn Garson battled binge eating disorder and depression and experienced three hospitalizations, with the most recent occurring in 2010. Since then she has enjoyed a successful return to the law profession and utterly unexpected acclaim as an author, but Garson hesitates to use the reference “recovery” in describing the details of her life today.
“At this point, this is [just] life,” says Garson, 60. “People have their ups and downs. I really do feel like it's a little bit beyond 'recovery.' This is what life throws at you.”
About four years ago, Garson turned what appeared to be a significant “down” into what would materialize as a major “up.” Two years after a successful treatment stay at The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt, she was back home in Atlanta and had entered a Georgia facility that proved to be quite the opposite treatment experience. “By turns it was both amusing and terrifying,” she says of life in the facility.
She was so frightened by the experience that she took to blogging about her illness and her treatment—without a ready-made audience to speak of. Yet a friend who worked as a food writer managed to see her work and advised her, “You don't need a psychologist; you need a literary agent.”
The end result of that counsel would be the autobiographical Southern Vapors, a story of growing up in the South as an heiress-in-waiting in “a big white house more Tara than Tara itself,” according to the book's description, but suffering the consequences of emptiness in her life. The book also chronicles the many treatment approaches she explored over the years, and outlines her family relationships. There have been discussions around finalizing a screenplay based on the book.
“It was my job and writing my book that brought me back,” Garson says.
Becoming an advocate
Garson is in her third year at a Georgia law firm specializing in healthcare law, specifically transactions that bring together health systems and physician practices. But while the work as an attorney and a newly minted author has kept her busy, advocacy looks to be the fastest-growing aspect of her life right now.
As someone who has battled both an addiction and depression, Garson has a potentially powerful message to deliver. But she admits that in the behavioral health community it can be difficult to get one's voice heard.
“There are all these little fiefdoms, and it can be hard to break in and get people's attention,” she says. “In this whole area of addiction and mental health, there are about 10,000 points of light, but boy are they disconnected.”
Yet she continues to believe in the potential power of her message, now delivered in numerous speaking appearances. “The most poignant thing that was ever said to me from these was a comment from a father whose son had been struggling for about 13 years,” she says. “He told me, 'Let me tell you something: You are the only empirical evidence I have of any hope of recovery from long-term clinical depression.'”
She prefers a conversational style in her presentations, and might offer a surprising comment or two along the way, such as with her views on medication treatment. She has battled depression for many years but is now happy not to be on any medication. “America is vastly overmedicated,” she says.
Garson says she struggled with binge eating since age 6 or 7. Over the years, her bouts with depression would trigger compulsive eating behaviors. “I had lousy coping skills and would go straight to my addiction,” she says. Alcohol and drug use were not a complicating issue for her.
Her first facility admission occurred in 2000 at an eating disorders treatment center. She was divorced in 2006, and by 2008 her life had gotten so off track that she would go to the Sheppard Pratt program. “That put the pieces back pretty well,” she says. Two years later she would endure the much more negative experience that precipitated her writing and much of what she is doing today.
Garson says in reference to her illness course, “I've almost always been able to work through the fog,” but she also realizes that it slowed her movement along the career track early on. “It interfered with my progression as a lawyer,” she says. “I had issues around self-esteem. I had become a partner, but I gave it up after two years; I didn't have the self-confidence.”
She adds that just as she doesn't tend to use the term “recovery” in describing her journey, she doesn't cite one prominent moment that represented for her the turnaround in her life. Instead, that too was more of a process—one of realizing that she indeed could take responsibility for herself and her actions.