Book Review: ‘I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying’ by Bassey Ikpi

I'm Telling the Truth, but I'm LyingI’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I share this with people often. I give them the suggestion: Allow yourself morning. I tell them it means that today may have been a rolling ball of anxiety and trembling, a face wet and slick with tears, but if you could get to morning, if you could allow yourself a new day to encourage a change, then you can get through it. Allow yourself morning.

“I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying” by Bassey Ikpi is a poetically written collection of essays reflecting the author’s yearslong struggle with mental illness. It has an attention-keeping rhythm as it tells the story of the author’s life from childhood in Nigeria to childhood in the United States to adulthood marred by mood swings that lead to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Bassey’s journey starts in Nigeria with her family, but one of her early memories of not being able to point out her father in a room of people marks more similar moments in the book where she feels something is off but can’t place what that is. One of the moments that sticks out in her American childhood is when she’s watching the Challenger blast off then explode in 1986 with the first teacher astronaut, a well-known national tragedy. She’s shaken and remains shaken that life could be snatched immediately and, she like many other children during that time, didn’t know why she was witnessing such a catastrophe. But she also knows it bothers her more than other children. Her adulthood in New York City has moments of not wanting to deal with people and not understanding why as if she makes a living as a traveling poet. She eventually receives a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. There’s a longtime hospital visit. There’s a setback then another. There’s always the desire to be “normal,” where mental illness doesn’t subtract her from living her life the way she wants to.

How she tells her personal story is striking as other people fade in the background but play a role simultaneously. It’s an issue I’ve noticed in memoirs, where writers tell their stories by mentioning major and minor characters but emphasize the pain those characters planted onto their lives. It becomes obvious that not only forgiveness hangs in the balance but also the realization that this person you mentioned doesn’t care or even remembers you or what they did to you. In my opinion, this takes away from memoirists’ stories, but Bassey makes sure to let the reader know she’s the main character, and she takes responsibility for the journey of understanding her brain chemistry and that she will sometimes have things under control and sometimes they’ll be out of her control and that’s just how it is for her.

This book is recommended for anyone interested in learning more about mental illness or living with mental illness. I listened to the audiobook with Bassey narrating her story. Overall, the story is relatable about how to conquer the obstacles that come with life and trying to be better at seeing them for what they are and reacting the way you should.

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