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In I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying Bassey Ikpi explores her life—as a Nigerian-American immigrant, a black woman, a slam poet, a mother, a daughter, an artist—through the lens of her mental health and diagnosis of bipolar II and anxiety. Her remarkable memoir in essays implodes our preconceptions of the mind and normalcy as Bassey bares her own truths and lies for us all to behold with radical honesty and brutal intimacy.
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"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.” —Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
From her early childhood in Nigeria through her adolescence in Oklahoma, Bassey Ikpi lived with a tumult of emotions, cycling between extreme euphoria and deep depression—sometimes within the course of a single day. By the time she was in her early twenties, Bassey was a spoken word artist and traveling with HBO's Def Poetry Jam, channeling her life into art. But beneath the façade of the confident performer, Bassey's mental health was in a precipitous decline, culminating in a breakdown that resulted in hospitalization and a diagnosis of Bipolar II.
In I'm Telling the Truth, But I'm Lying, Bassey Ikpi breaks open our understanding of mental health by giving us intimate access to her own. Exploring shame, confusion, medication, and family in the process, Bassey looks at how mental health impacts every aspect of our lives—how we appear to others, and more importantly to ourselves—and challenges our preconception about what it means to be "normal." Viscerally raw and honest, the result is an exploration of the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of who we are—and the ways, as honest as we try to be, each of these stories can also be a lie.
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.