Fraught memories are interrogated and reconstructed in these essays from Ikpi, a poet, performer, and mental health advocate who here grapples with having “lived with depression my whole life,” as well as her struggles with anxiety and bipolar II. Born in Nigeria, she describes coming to America as a small child—rejoining her parents who’d emigrated earlier—carrying memories of her maternal grandmother and entering a tense household divided between a “father loved his parents” and a “mother did not love hers.” Affecting memories of growing up—watching the unfolding Challenger disaster on TV as an eight-year-old in Stillwater, Okla., taking her first trip back to Nigeria as a 12-year-old—flavor a memoir otherwise focused on a nearly clinical account of mental health struggles. Ikpi describes in painstaking detail episodes such as an attack of anxiety before taking a flight, or depression that results in a week of hospitalization. Along the way, she learns of her grandmother’s dementia and is herself diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome before finding the right doctor and an effective treatment. Ikpi’s account is a gift for fellow sufferers; it may also serve instructively for those who care about them, by candidly conveying how one woman faced and overcame her demons. Agent: Eric Smith, P.S. Literary. (Aug.)
Bassey Ikpi writes about the alienating effects of her mental health struggles…. Readers interested in the subject will love her brave and honest approach to this book.
Highly anticipated, this collection is raw, courageous, and unsettling…. Haunting and affirming.
Lyrical and gritty and revelatory. “
I read the first half… in a day and sobbed with recognition…. There were nuanced descriptions about childhood and family dynamics that I didn’t think anyone else had experienced. A wonderful exploration of the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of who we are.
Bassey Ikpi articulates the weightlessness and bodylessness of vulnerability and neuroses and depression with the ease of a fog sifting through the sky. I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying will shatter you, sure. Probably. Definitely. But Bassey is so gifted, so real, so magic that you won’t even bother asking for glue.
For over a decade, Bassey Ikpi has been a vital voice for those of us living with neurodivergence. Her words and work have been there through some of our darkest moments, whispering for us to allow ourselves morning, and her debut collection I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying gathers a lifetime of experience into a searing body of work. These true stories will engulf you, wring your heart out, and fill your chest with light. The writing is blade-sharp, precise and evocative, brilliant and graceful as it articulates an embodiment that has been both misrepresented and left unseen in our culture for far too long. Bassey is a storyteller to her bones and it shows. Read this book. Tell everyone you know to read this book. You have no idea how many people out there need these words.
I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying is a richness of layers, rewarding the reader no matter which particular thread got you here: the experience of being African-born and raised in America, the coming up of a gifted writer and performer, tracing the lineage of mental illness through several generations, or the fleshing out of the literal highs and lows of bipolar II. Like kudzu, symptoms blossom and lace themselves through Ikpi’s accomplishments and griefs, strangulating her from life’s sustenance (food, friends, sleep). Her vivid, heart-racing chapters on the living, breathing moments of bipolar, particularly ‘This is What Happens,’ will be assigned in coursework for years to come. Bassey Ikpi’s writing is a revelation, a thrill, devastating and uproarious, lively in its accurate depiction of the lack of boundaries between the terrible and the hilarious. I’m Telling the Truth is a feat, and will soon be the favorite book of many. It is already one of mine.
Filled with lines, paragraphs and passages that both intrigue and shock… in essence, the collection paints a personal picture of the normalcy of mental illness… using visceral snapshots of memories from [Ikpi’s] childhood to her adult years.
An intimate, extraordinary book that should transform the way we consider and talk about mental health. Bassey Ikpi’s essays, in all their brutal honesty, throb with power and grace—I defy anyone to read her work without being changed.
The writing in I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying is wholly sincere and consistently slanted. That’s so hard to pull off. No writer in the country does as much with short soulful sentences as Bassey Ikpi. We will not think or talk about mental health or normalcy the same after reading this momentous art object moonlighting as a colossal collection of essays.
Bassey Ikpi’s lyrical memoir-in-essays asks us to reframe the way we think about memories, the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell other people, the stories we never tell, and all the other ways we try to make sense of who we are in the world.
Bassey Ikpi is a human miracle and I want to scream my joy from the rooftops that we are allowed to experience her journey (as an artist, as a black woman, as a black woman dealing with mental illness!) in her gorgeous book.
I’ve long known Bassey Ikpi to be a writer of great talent, but I am blown away by what she has accomplished with I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying. In this impeccable collection of essays, Bassey writes about such difficult subject matter with gorgeous prose, effortless wit, a searing level of honesty and vulnerability coupled with a level of self-awareness you yearn for from compelling memoirists. Bassey’s work has always felt like haven, but she has outdone herself with this stunning debut. So many will be better for it.
As phrases that can stop and startle you, here’s just one. ‘My mother loves and hates and heals and hurts with the same hands.’ The noted spoken word artist has written a book of essays that perform a memoir…. Thanks for writing this.
"Imagine you don't fit anywhere, not even in your own head": A Nigerian immigrant and debut author writes of mental illness and its staggering challenges.
Catapult contributing editor Ikpi opens with the suggestion that the fractured memories to follow in her memoir may or may not be true. "The trick to lying," she writes, "is to tell people that you're a bad liar because then they'll believe what you say." What she has to say is sometimes heartbreaking, as she recounts a search for reliable memories when she has so few of them. "I need to prove to you that I didn't enter the world broken," she writes before admitting the paucity of fact in a whirl of impressions and sensations. What she does know is that she doesn't know. Things were kept from her, familial facts were forgotten, genealogies erased, and unpleasant truths swept aside. Little things proved overwhelming: the discovery, for instance, that "the twins from my favorite movie, The Parent Trap, were actually one person." If the distance from Nigeria to Oklahoma was great, the leap to adulthood in New York was greater. Depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety proved to be formidable opponents, isolation a constant even surrounded by millions of people. One of the most affecting parts of the book is a simple diarylike reconstruction of a long day that began and ended with an airplane flight, a day of sleeplessness, hunger, and worry ("this doesn't happen to normal people"). Other strong moments in this relentlessly honest narrative recount failed love ("he was the only one I regret being too broken for"), the shame of not being the immigrant success her parents had hoped for, and the quest for wholeness amid a cornucopia of medications targeting a long list of troubles that she expresses simply: "I don't feel good."
Deep truths underlie this fragmented, compelling narrative, which leaves readers wishing only the best for its harrowed author.
Nigerian American writer and mental health advocate Ikpi (HBO's Def Poetry Jam, editor, Catapult; founder, the Siwe Project) debuts an essay collection that takes readers on a journey from Nigeria to Stillwater, OK, to Brooklyn; from childhood to adulthood; from the depression and mania of bipolar II disorder and mental breakdown to the beginning of stability. The writings are intimate, intense, and sometimes harrowing and claustrophobic. Ikpi struggles to be "normal" and prove to herself and everyone else she's just fine. But she isn't. The author goes days without eating or sleeping, and when she finally does sleep, she's disappointed to wake up. When at last Ikpi gets help, finding the right medication combination is not easy. She stops taking her meds and ends up in the hospital for a week. The loneliness of knowing something is wrong but not being able to fix it is terrifying, the despair suffocating. Ikpi's writing is poetic. It skips, batters, sinks, soars, and flows according to events and the state of her mental health. VERDICT Visceral and unsettling, these essays will not easily be forgotten. A must-read.—Stefanie Hollmichel, Univ. of St. Thomas Law Lib., Minneapolis