What an odd, interesting little book. A Hell of Mercy: A Meditation on Depression and the Dark Night of the Soul by Todd Farrington is a meandering look at the author’s relationship with depression, which he calls “the dark night.” For most of his life, Farrington was not medicated, and not through stubbornness. He suffered through a time when most anti-depressants were shiny and new, and not exactly proven, and long term effects were not surely known. She he suffered on, staggered through somehow and looked for answers in a lot of places.

Those places, mostly religoius, wrap around the story. If you don’t like religious overtones, or expect your narratives to be told on a straight and fast steady line, A Hell of Mercy is not going to be your kind of book. But if you like the tangents, and have an interest in depression, it might be worth a read. And it’s short, so it won’t gobble up your life time wise.

I’m writing this review (and one for a newspaper as well) while listening to Colin Hay’s Going Somewhere. I don’t listen to it that often, but this book reminded me of it because I think of it as a depressing album. A lot of the songs are downers, and I listened to it a lot at dark points in my life. I never got to Farrington’s state, but two years ago when I went through my awful breakup — and then that fall, when I’d finished my book and didn’t know what to do with myself (and finally felt the full impact of my grandfather’s death and that impact), I was in pretty bad shape. I’d lie on the floor and listen to “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” because that’s what I was doing. I felt paralyzed by fear, grief and anger and was waiting, as Hay says, for my real life to begin.

It’s odd listening to it when there’s so much joy in my life. I wish I could go back to my two-year younger self, touch her on the shoulder and let her know everything really would turn around like people said, and that I would stitch my heart back up and move on to find joy and love with someone so much better for me. I wonder if I would have listened.

Probably not. First, I would have thought myself nuts for seeing a 28 year old version of myself, like I was caught in some weird Back to the Future II moment. Second, I was stuck on that office floor, and anchored down to the point that I thought things would never change. That spring and fall — the bookends for writing my book — were some of the worst time periods of my life. If I was stuck in that spot permanently, I don’t know what I would have done.

Farrington writes about what I can only guess that experience was life, and how he clawed his way out. In that sense, it’s a positive book. But the getting to the end — it’s daunting.

Here’s the “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” — it’s words only but worth the listen:

I’d first heard the song on Scrubs — different meaning and feel, but still: a powerful song:

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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