PJ Green | Book Review

Book cover by Matthew McNerney

I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying
Bassey Ikpi
Harper Perennial, 2019
Paperback: 272 pages; $15.99

Bassey Ikpi writes the broken, beautiful truth about living with bipolar II disorder

On ESPN’s podcast The Right Time with Bomani Jones, Bassey Ikpi says that I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying was initially pitched as a self-help, positivity book. It wasn’t supposed to be a memoir. But what has arisen out of Ikpi’s collection of essays is an astoundingly open and stunning look at what people who have mental illness endure and how they cope with their “broken brain.”

Ikpi was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder in January 2004 while touring for the Def Poetry Jam. Ikpi suspects that she has suffered from this disorder since she was a child, and she expresses that throughout the beginning of the book.

“At school, I sat in a corner of the playground, my back against the chain-link fence watching the other kids play. I wanted to join them. I wanted to be out there with them, but I couldn’t do it. My brain was too heavy.”

The former slam poet’s writing hits like a left jab from a poet boxer every sentence is elegant and powerful. For so many people that have mental illness, it is a struggle to relate to friends and family, let alone strangers, what is going on in their brain and how it affects their life. Ikpi does this with precision in each of her essays.

“People like to use the metaphor of darkness when it comes to depression. My experience is more like a fog. A thing descending slowly. A thick something that surrounds me, distorting my vision of myself and the world around me.”

“Anxiety is its own creature. Anxiety asks me to focus on the terrible things I’ve done. The people I’ve hurt. The promises I’ve broken.”

As society becomes more open about mental health awareness, I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying could be the work that becomes the canon of the movement. The mental health advocate examines her life as a Nigerian-American growing up in Oklahoma, a black daughter with a Jamaica Kincaid-like relationship with her mother, the eldest sister that doesn’t live up to personal and familial expectations and a young black woman in her 20s in New York attempting to navigate relationships while suffering from Bipolar II disorder.

Photo by Kola Tubosun

Ikpi gives a voice to the friend that stays in their room all day and doesn’t eat; to the friend that stays up all hours of the night laying in the bed or sitting in the dark crying; to the friend that always says “I’m okay.” when they are visibly not well and won’t ask for help. Almost everyone has a friend or family member like this that they have tried to help; or maybe they are that friend that refuses help until they are almost nothing. While Ikpi has overcome these struggles and has said in recent interviews that she feels the best she has in years, having mental illness is a daily struggle that has taken Ikpi years to identify and regulate. Ikpi may not have written the self-help, platitude-filled book that she first started writing, but she has written a book that will empower masses and inspire millions like she wanted to.

Don’t ask him what the initials mean: they mean nothing. PJ Green is an astounding broadcast journalist who occasionally writes every and now and then. Currently a news reporter at a local news station in Wichita Falls, TX, PJ aims to get into sports with his next job and keep working to achieve his dream as a national sports commentator.