Beth Impson: Balancing depression, joy and faith

10 months ago Triangle 0

Written by: Samantha Burgess, Campus editor 

The pursuit of happiness is something most seek all their lives. According to Beth Impson, happiness is often temporal at best and instead we should strive for joy in the glory of God.

Dr. Beth Impson spoke in chapel on March 5.

English professor Beth Impson spoke about the concept of finding joy by giving glory to God and what that looks like for someone with a mental illness. Impson began struggling with depression in high school, but it became more critical shortly after she got married. Impson was overwhelmed with graduate school, taking care of her children, financial struggles from the 2008 recession and her husband’s physical disability. The ideas Impson had of an easy marriage and family disappeared, along with her happiness.

Impson’s depression caused her to be angry at God and herself. Impson didn’t understand her depression and wondered if it was God’s way of punishing her for a hidden sin. All she knew to do was the very next thing. Her mother taught her this. During her time at college, Impson learned that God wasn’t just some far off being but someone who was relational. Even though she was saved, she’d never truly grasped this concept. When she did, she began praying to God for his will in her depression. One day Impson came across a graduate student who was struggling even more than her. Impson stopped to encourage her and felt a glimmer of happiness after. Slowly, Impson began taking moments throughout her day to stop and give glory to God. While her depression didn’t go away completely, it became easier to manage. She learned not to just seek happiness, but joy in the presence of God.

Impson spoke of Mother Teresa, a woman who freely shared joy and the love of Christ to others. Conversely, Mother Teresa wrote in a series of letters of a struggle between darkness in her life and obeying God. Because of her darkness, Mother Teresa sought to bring the joy of God to others. When her emotions were low, she continued to trust God. Impson said this was a crucial point because, while emotions are a necessary part of life, they shouldn’t drive your decisions in life. Instead you should be driven by purpose. Impson’s purpose was to glorify God in all she did, only then could she find joy.

“Happiness is ephemeral and striving for it leads to brokeness,” said Impson. “Joy, however, is a deep, abiding knowledge that all will be well because God is in control. It’s why we are able to give Him glory in the good and the bad.”

Impson directly addressed the students and said we should recognize that God has a purpose in every class we take and determine to give glory to God.

When speaking to Impson after chapel, she addressed how Christians should respond to mental illness. “I think the first things Christians need to understand is that if the body can be broken, then the mind can also be broken without it being the fault of a person’s sin,” said Impson. She emphasized that while sin can make mental illness worse, it isn’t the cause of it. Impson encourages Christians to educate themselves and others on the topic and to exercise compassion and discernment.

Impson said that anyone who is dealing with a mental illness should seek professional help, but also a friend to talk to. “Find someone who you can be yourself with, someone who will both encourage you and remind you that you’re not your mental illness,” she said. Sometimes Impson finds this encouragement through authors such as Gerard Hopkins or Emily Dickinson. Reading and writing, she says, are some of the best outlets for her depression.

Impson particularly finds encouragement in Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk. “Shenk shows how Lincoln was a great man, not in spite of his depression but because of it,” said Impson. Lincoln learned from his own suffering how he could help others through theirs.

Samantha Burgess is a sophomore majoring in communication with an emphasis in digital media and is an assistant editor for the Triangle.