Exploring shame, confusion, medication, and family in the process, Def Poetry Jam performer 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."
...what matters most to me is Ikpi is able to bring us into her world and capture how the moments she shares with us made her feel. So, while Ikpi is correct in that what she does remember is presented with 'stark clarity' in select essays, as far as the details that are scant to her, where they may lack in specifics they make up for in beautiful prose on what life with mental illness looks like in all its facets through powerful stories found throughout her debut book ... Ikpi provides immense insight into what so many people living with bipolar II disorder—including those we love—have to grapple with ... I can’t say I’ve ever read a narrative about it like this ... her writing is yes, poetic and lyrical with tenderness and thoughtfulness but also funny. She’s just so damn funny and her wit often makes her essays as humorous as they are heartbreaking.
Over the course of writing this review, I’ve counted nearly two dozen bipolar memoirs—a fascinating number in its own right—and yet very few of them have been penned by writers of color ... Given this scarcity, Bassey Ikpi’s I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying is a welcome addition ... [Ikpi] divides her story into chapters that read like individual essays—each one different in form yet linked together by theme and organized chronologically. This approach allows Ikpi to convey the fragmentation of her existence and to narrate her experience despite uncertainty about what happened and when ... The result is a powerful, if at times elliptical, exploration of the disordered 'order' of living with bipolar ... Parts of I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying seem written to fill in the gaps of chronology, to fulfill the reader’s desire to understand how Ikpi got from A to B, and these essays do not carry the same weight or thematic resonance as others ... I’ve been witnessing this journey long enough to know that bipolar does not lend itself to easy narrative closure, so I’m willing to set aside my desire for her 'broken' life to be made whole ... On the other hand, I wanted to hear more from the author about storytelling and language, some insight about the relationship between bipolar and poetry, particularly given her affinity for word play, communication, and creativity. Ikpi seems to have set aside the performative demands of the stage for the more intimate act of writing, and I have to wonder what this has been like. How does this shift in art form affect the narrative of her life, the possibilities of what can be spoken or written about, and how? Despite the ways that her memoir neglects these questions, Ikpi’s courage and candor in committing her story to narrative helps illuminate the complexities of her experience with a visceral and powerful intensity.
...gripping tales ... heartbreaking ... this collection is raw, courageous, and unsettling. People struggling with mental-health issues will appreciate Ikpi as a talented kindred spirit as she raises such universal questions as: What does it mean to be crazy anyway? Haunting and affirming.