Disclaimer: I received an electronic ARC of I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying from Harper Perennial via Edelweiss. My review contains my unbiased opinion.
A deeply personal collection of essays exploring Nigerian-American author Bassey Ikpi’s experiences navigating Bipolar II and anxiety throughout the course of her life.
Summary: I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying
Bassey Ikpi is a Nigerian-American writer and poet whose work I first discovered after she attended Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Farafina writing workshop in 2014. But she’s been in the business for many years before. You may have also read her work more recently on Catapult. She’s always been vocal on social media about her life with Bipolar II and her debut essay collection is no different.
I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying follows Bassey’s life from early childhood in Nigeria, moving to join her father in the States, and being an anxious child in the US. After dropping out of college due to anxiety and depression in her early twenties, Bassey becomes a spoken word artist. She’s well-known for traveling and performing with HBO’s Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam.
However, things begin to cycle out of control on tour. Prolonged insomnia, an inability to focus, desperate depression, and other symptoms eventually lead to a Bipolar II diagnosis.
Bassey is unflinchingly honest in this essay collection — nothing is off the table. She discusses her childhood and her experience with multiple dissociative episodes. Central to her book’s title — and disconcerting — is the fact that she has fragmented (and sometimes, false) memories of certain life events. Also in focus is her mental illness and her often difficult relationship with her family. Her writing is also lyrical and utterly engrossing; I read this book in one sitting! When describing hypomanic periods, the writing style is fast paced, and she renders anxious periods in meandering prose.
Bassey’s life up until this point has been so eventful, I could read a book about every essay in this collection. She opens with an enrapturing introduction, Portrait of a Face at Forty which is exactly what the title says, but in words. Her first actual essay, This First Essay is to Prove to You That I Had a Childhood takes readers back to Bassey’s childhood and her complicated relationship with her mother. The Hands That Held Me is an ode to the shining love she feels for her father, despite the occasional frustration with his response to her mother’s violent anger towards Bassey.
In Tehuti, she details a toxic relationship doomed by unrepentant cheating. Even after her diagnosis, treatment is rocky as Bassey chronicles in Side Effects May Include. Yet, as heavy and raw as this book can feel, there are hopeful parts. Just the fact that this book exists is hopeful. There are kind neighbors and true friends, like Derek, as well as Bassey’s family who do show up for her when it matters. At the end, Bassey’s essays flow into a complete picture and this collection feels more like a memoir than just essays.
Have I mentioned that I adore this cover? The fact that the title can be read in both up-to-down and in reverse is apt to Bassey’s often muddled memories.
This book is a vital addition to the league of creative non-fiction about mental illness. Bassey Ikpi’s I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying is a candid look at the life of a woman finding her way in the world with the burden of mental illness. It shows how complex families and relationships can be, especially with a dash of mental illness in the mix. Further, books like this are important for helping unaffected individuals get a sense of what having a mental disorder feels like. Above all things, Bassey’s debut proves that while mental illness is lifelong, the battle is never lost as long you keep fighting to live.Bassey Ikpi's I'm Telling the Truth, But I'm Lying is a candid look at the life of a woman finding her way in the world with the burden of mental illness. Click To Tweet
I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying is gritty, heartbreaking, and necessary. I would strongly recommend this book to everyone looking for a well-crafted essay collection.
Out August 20. Pre-order Now on Amazon
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Have you read this book or any of Bassey Ikpi’s essays? What did you think? What are your favorite non-fiction books on mental illnes? I’d love to know!