“I need to prove to you that I didn’t enter the world broken. I need to prove that I existed before. That I was created by people who loved me and had experiences that turned me into these fragmented sentences, but that I was at one point, whole. That I didn’t just show up as a life already destroyed.”
- Bassey Ikpi, I’m Telling The Truth, But I’m Lying
As a teenager, I discovered old recordings of Def Jam poetry on YouTube. I was completely obsessed, I downloaded YouTube videos and converted them to audio files so I could listen to them like I was listening to music. I wanted to be a spoken-word artist, not just a poet. Among those videos were two performances by Bassey Ikpi that I listened to religiously, Sometimes silence is the loudest kind of noise and Apology to my Unborn. At 19, I also wrote a poem to my unborn daughter. I have always felt that Bassey Ikpi was asking the same kind of questions I often asked myself, about being a child, and raising one.
I started reading I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying in late December. I wasn’t feeling like myself. I was often anxious, with bouts of depression mixed in. I needed encouragement so I put aside the other fiction books I was reading and dove into Bassey’s first book. If you’ve read my most recent blog post, you know I suffer from depression and anxiety and I was hospitalized over the holidays. I was looking for answers when I decided to start this book, and even more so after my hospitalization. I am trying to make sense of my illness and how to live with it. If I’m being honest this book offers none of that, this book is not a manual on how to live with a mental illness, it’s simply an account of her life with a mental illness. Bassey Ikpi suffers from Bipolar II which means depression and anxiety are also part of her daily life. I don’t think Bassey wrote this book to make people with mental illnesses feel better. This book is honest, it’s not hopeful but it’s also not hopeless. A part of me appreciates the honesty, for example some of us will have to take medication for the rest of our lives. Mental illnesses cannot always be cured but they can be managed. The responsibility of having to manage a mental illness is exhausting and not always rewarding, the benefits are few and far between and this is involuntary work. I, myself am often frustrated by the uncertainty. I may or may not always suffer from depression or anxiety. I cannot plan my life around being better, every day is different. It feels like I am being held hostage by my mental illness. I am unable to live my life the way I want. I have to ask my body, and my mind for permission to live and do “normal” things. I am afraid that I will not be able to build or maintain healthy relationships. I am convinced that my illness makes me a burden. Bassey Ikpi and I are still both asking the same questions to which there are no easy or certain answers.
I don’t know if I can review this book as “objectively” as I do other books because my experience is still so raw. When Bassey Ikpi describes her own hospitalization, I cannot fight memories of my own experience. The indifference of some of the nurses. The cold air ventilation that makes it hard to sleep. It felt like a prison and a public declaration of my “abnormality.”
Reading this book, I feel less alone, but I don’t know if what I need is to feel less alone. I need to feel loved in spite of my mental illness and Bassey Ikpi doesn’t guarantee that, she can’t. I would recommend this book to people who are looking for ways to understand and support people living with a mental illness. As I read the book, I kept on saying to myself, “Yes, this is exactly what it feels like, why do people not get that?” I held a little more compassion for myself, reading Bassey Ikpi’s experiences reminded me of how difficult it is to live with a mental illness, this is not light work, even when our minds “fail” we still deserve love and kindness. There are people I wish would’ve read this book for my sake, so they can understand some of what goes on in my head, but there is heartbrokenness in having to ask that of people and the possibility of rejection. I would not recommend this book to someone experiencing the more severe symptoms of their mental illness. If you are reading this and you are currently suffering from a mental illness, I would like to remind you, that you are not alone.