Erin Rockhill Brown

@erin-brown | contributor
My name is Erin Rockhill Brown. I have a degree in English Education. I am married with two grown children and one grandchild.
Juliette V.

16 Things People With BPD Say That Are Code for 'I Need Help'

Oftentimes, when someone is struggling with their mental health, they won’t come right out and say it. This may be especially true for folks with borderline personality disorder (BPD), many of whom grew up in abusive or invalidating environments that did not encourage straightforward communication. Maybe deep down, you know you want to ask for love, but don’t know how and resort to “testing” people to see if they really care. Maybe you fear people will leave you if you tell them about the storm of emotions brewing inside you. Or maybe you are ashamed of the way you feel, and don’t want to admit to having those feelings. There are a lot of reasons someone with BPD might use “code words” that really mean “I need help.” And while it’s important we talk about these code words to identify people who are struggling, it’s also important to know direct communication is the best way to talk to your loved ones if you need help. The Mighty spoke to BPD expert Dr. April Foreman about how to get needs met, and she gave three helpful tips. Read about them here. To find out the “code words” people with BPD say that really mean, “I need help,” we asked our BPD community to share what they say to loved ones in times of need. Here’s what they shared with us: 1. “I’m fine.” “I become withdrawn completely and my responses are usually ‘OK,’ ‘Sure,’ ‘Alrighty,’ and if someone asks, ‘Are you feeling OK?’ my generic response is ‘I’m fine,’ but all I really want is to be held and told it’s OK to feel the way I do.” — Suraya M. “‘Yeah I’m fine, it’s just…’ That means I’m really not fine. If I actually say I’m not OK, I’m past being not OK and am likely about to break down at any moment.” — Jenny B. 2. “I don’t feel so good.” “‘I don’t feel so well.’ As someone who is always saying, ‘I’m OK’ even when I’m not, if I had the courage to say this, it literally means I have a storm of emotions raging inside of me and I feel like if nobody gets me out of it right now I will lose it. This is my last cry for help before everything breaks down. Sometimes people don’t get it and this is when crisis happens… it makes me feel like I’m alone and nobody will ever be able to help me through it. Like I can’t trust anyone because they will let me down when I needed them the most.” — Hoshizora S. “I say, ‘I don’t feel good’ whenever I’m suffering with something, but most of the time people assume I mean a physical ailment. It’s hard when I don’t want to directly express myself, but I really want someone to understand what I mean.” — Hanna D. 3. “I don’t know.” “It usually means I’m feeling so much I don’t know what emotion is the one in control and in that moment, I need a complete takeover. I want to say, ‘I’m lost alone and confused, please take care of me.’” — Lisa M. 4. “I’m sorry.” “I apologize the most when I’m terrified. Terrified of losing someone, terrified of my own mind, terrified of everything about myself and my life. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Don’t throw me away.’” Hillary H. 5. “I’m OK, it’s just a headache.” “I find myself saying this a lot when someone notices my mood has dropped to deflect the attention away from me struggling. Because I’ve done this so much, my close friends and loved ones now recognize this as code for me struggling even if I don’t realize it myself.” — Hanna T. 6. “I hate you.” “ As soon as I split on them, I tell them I ‘hate’ them [or] ‘get out.’ In my head, I’m screaming ‘help me,’ but my mouth is just verbalizing hate. Sabotaging myself when I need help the most. Makes me feel sick just waiting for the next time.” — Sophie E. 7. “Wanna hang out?” “If I ask or keep trying every day, it’s usually because I need not to be alone.” — Mandie D. “‘Anybody want to do anything?’ Usually, I don’t want to do anything and have no plans scheduling, I just want to know somebody wants to do something with me.” — Jenn B. 8. “I feel weird…” “‘My hands/arms feel weird’ or ‘I literally do not feel like my body belongs to me because I’m dissociating that much.’ I know the comment is going to make those around me laugh, and it will be easier to hide my panic that I just don’t feel real at all.” — Beth H. “‘I don’t feel right.’ It’s the only thing I can think when I’m starting to drown in my own mind. Luckily the people in my life have learned to jump into action when I say this so I don’t have a full-blown breakdown.” — Shelby V. 9. “OK.” “I tend to simply respond with ‘OK’ when I just don’t have the energy or the space in my head to actually process what people are saying to me/telling me/asking me.” — Chelsea G. 10. “I don’t know.” “ When someone asks me what’s wrong and I answer with this, it means I’m confused and can’t manage my emotions and I need some help.” — Hev B. 11. “I’ve been really busy.” “’I’ve just been really busy’ because if I don’t give examples, I’m lying and I’m isolating myself because I feel alone or like I don’t deserve care and love.” — Sonja C. 12. “I’m tired.” “I tell my family and friends I am simply tired of myself — tired of of over-feeling emotions, tired of making social and relationship mistakes, tired of doing wrong when I’m trying so hard to be good. That’s definitely my code for ‘I need help.’” — Christina M. 13. “Hey, how are you?” “‘Hi, how are you? What’s going on in your life?’ Generally to someone I don’t see that often. It’s my way of distracting myself and grounding my attention to a new ‘normal.’” — Ben H. 14. “I’m going back to bed.” “‘I’m just gonna go back to bed.’ I say this when I’m numb. Sleeping sometimes just restarts everything so when I completely give up I say I’m going back to bed, but what I really need is someone to distract me. Otherwise I’ll lie there overthinking for hours and sometimes not even sleep.” — Alannah B. 15. “Maybe I’m just meant to be alone.” “I say this to my significant other when I’m pushing him away in the attempt to pull him closer. I need him to reassure me I’m not and that he doesn’t want to leave me. Unfortunately I say this when we’re arguing and at the point when he’s exhausted by my emotional roller coaster.” — Kaajal T. 16. “I’m so overwhelmed.” “When I get overwhelmed, it usually leads to a crash. I struggle to manage everything and then when the unexpected happens, I have no resources left and I fall apart. It’s very difficult for me to manage that part of this monster.” — Christi C. What would you add?

Juliette V.

16 Things People With BPD Say That Are Code for 'I Need Help'

Oftentimes, when someone is struggling with their mental health, they won’t come right out and say it. This may be especially true for folks with borderline personality disorder (BPD), many of whom grew up in abusive or invalidating environments that did not encourage straightforward communication. Maybe deep down, you know you want to ask for love, but don’t know how and resort to “testing” people to see if they really care. Maybe you fear people will leave you if you tell them about the storm of emotions brewing inside you. Or maybe you are ashamed of the way you feel, and don’t want to admit to having those feelings. There are a lot of reasons someone with BPD might use “code words” that really mean “I need help.” And while it’s important we talk about these code words to identify people who are struggling, it’s also important to know direct communication is the best way to talk to your loved ones if you need help. The Mighty spoke to BPD expert Dr. April Foreman about how to get needs met, and she gave three helpful tips. Read about them here. To find out the “code words” people with BPD say that really mean, “I need help,” we asked our BPD community to share what they say to loved ones in times of need. Here’s what they shared with us: 1. “I’m fine.” “I become withdrawn completely and my responses are usually ‘OK,’ ‘Sure,’ ‘Alrighty,’ and if someone asks, ‘Are you feeling OK?’ my generic response is ‘I’m fine,’ but all I really want is to be held and told it’s OK to feel the way I do.” — Suraya M. “‘Yeah I’m fine, it’s just…’ That means I’m really not fine. If I actually say I’m not OK, I’m past being not OK and am likely about to break down at any moment.” — Jenny B. 2. “I don’t feel so good.” “‘I don’t feel so well.’ As someone who is always saying, ‘I’m OK’ even when I’m not, if I had the courage to say this, it literally means I have a storm of emotions raging inside of me and I feel like if nobody gets me out of it right now I will lose it. This is my last cry for help before everything breaks down. Sometimes people don’t get it and this is when crisis happens… it makes me feel like I’m alone and nobody will ever be able to help me through it. Like I can’t trust anyone because they will let me down when I needed them the most.” — Hoshizora S. “I say, ‘I don’t feel good’ whenever I’m suffering with something, but most of the time people assume I mean a physical ailment. It’s hard when I don’t want to directly express myself, but I really want someone to understand what I mean.” — Hanna D. 3. “I don’t know.” “It usually means I’m feeling so much I don’t know what emotion is the one in control and in that moment, I need a complete takeover. I want to say, ‘I’m lost alone and confused, please take care of me.’” — Lisa M. 4. “I’m sorry.” “I apologize the most when I’m terrified. Terrified of losing someone, terrified of my own mind, terrified of everything about myself and my life. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Don’t throw me away.’” Hillary H. 5. “I’m OK, it’s just a headache.” “I find myself saying this a lot when someone notices my mood has dropped to deflect the attention away from me struggling. Because I’ve done this so much, my close friends and loved ones now recognize this as code for me struggling even if I don’t realize it myself.” — Hanna T. 6. “I hate you.” “ As soon as I split on them, I tell them I ‘hate’ them [or] ‘get out.’ In my head, I’m screaming ‘help me,’ but my mouth is just verbalizing hate. Sabotaging myself when I need help the most. Makes me feel sick just waiting for the next time.” — Sophie E. 7. “Wanna hang out?” “If I ask or keep trying every day, it’s usually because I need not to be alone.” — Mandie D. “‘Anybody want to do anything?’ Usually, I don’t want to do anything and have no plans scheduling, I just want to know somebody wants to do something with me.” — Jenn B. 8. “I feel weird…” “‘My hands/arms feel weird’ or ‘I literally do not feel like my body belongs to me because I’m dissociating that much.’ I know the comment is going to make those around me laugh, and it will be easier to hide my panic that I just don’t feel real at all.” — Beth H. “‘I don’t feel right.’ It’s the only thing I can think when I’m starting to drown in my own mind. Luckily the people in my life have learned to jump into action when I say this so I don’t have a full-blown breakdown.” — Shelby V. 9. “OK.” “I tend to simply respond with ‘OK’ when I just don’t have the energy or the space in my head to actually process what people are saying to me/telling me/asking me.” — Chelsea G. 10. “I don’t know.” “ When someone asks me what’s wrong and I answer with this, it means I’m confused and can’t manage my emotions and I need some help.” — Hev B. 11. “I’ve been really busy.” “’I’ve just been really busy’ because if I don’t give examples, I’m lying and I’m isolating myself because I feel alone or like I don’t deserve care and love.” — Sonja C. 12. “I’m tired.” “I tell my family and friends I am simply tired of myself — tired of of over-feeling emotions, tired of making social and relationship mistakes, tired of doing wrong when I’m trying so hard to be good. That’s definitely my code for ‘I need help.’” — Christina M. 13. “Hey, how are you?” “‘Hi, how are you? What’s going on in your life?’ Generally to someone I don’t see that often. It’s my way of distracting myself and grounding my attention to a new ‘normal.’” — Ben H. 14. “I’m going back to bed.” “‘I’m just gonna go back to bed.’ I say this when I’m numb. Sleeping sometimes just restarts everything so when I completely give up I say I’m going back to bed, but what I really need is someone to distract me. Otherwise I’ll lie there overthinking for hours and sometimes not even sleep.” — Alannah B. 15. “Maybe I’m just meant to be alone.” “I say this to my significant other when I’m pushing him away in the attempt to pull him closer. I need him to reassure me I’m not and that he doesn’t want to leave me. Unfortunately I say this when we’re arguing and at the point when he’s exhausted by my emotional roller coaster.” — Kaajal T. 16. “I’m so overwhelmed.” “When I get overwhelmed, it usually leads to a crash. I struggle to manage everything and then when the unexpected happens, I have no resources left and I fall apart. It’s very difficult for me to manage that part of this monster.” — Christi C. What would you add?

How I Keep Laughing in the Midst of Chronic Illness

I have chronic pain from an auto accident and other serious injuries. I also have chronic pain from various overlapping autoimmune diseases. I’m not pleased about the chronic pain, but most days, I’m so accustomed to it that I’m able to live an ordinary life with the help of my family and friends. Several months ago, I began to experience a different pain, this one in my mid-section near and below my belly button. I made various guesses as to what was causing the pain. Perhaps I was developing sensitivities or intolerances to certain foods. Perhaps I was experiencing a side effect of one of my medications. Perhaps I needed a colonoscopy. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…. “Perhaps you need to get your scrawny little butt to the doctor instead of trying to diagnose yourself, Mama,” said my daughter. My granddaughter shook her head and muttered, “That’s what I keep telling her, too.” “Maybe she needs to start farting,” said my loving husband. So, with the “encouragement” of my smart Alec family, I finally made an appointment and explained the situation to my primary care provider. She examined me in that fun way that involves stirrups but no horse, then referred me to a gynecologist. Two more stirrup exams, one abdominal ultrasound, and two stirrup ultrasounds later, I had my diagnosis: At least one large tumor, sharing a blood supply with my uterus and left ovary. The gynecologist gave me my treatment options and asked me to think about them, and then tell her my decision in one week. I discussed those options with my husband and my daughter. They both wanted to do some research of their own before giving their opinions. A day or two later, my daughter phoned me and said, “Hey, Mama. I found out something cool! Sometimes, these tumors have hair and teeth. Sometimes, they even have eyeballs and teeth! If the doctor takes out the tumor and lets you keep it, you put that thing on a leash and take it for walks around town. We’ll have to make it some tiny shoes, but…” I hung up on her and laughed so hard that I peed my pants. My family and I finally decided to choose a partial or total hysterectomy, so I returned to my gynecologist to discuss the surgery with her. She said that she agreed with our decision, but informed me that we were facing a wrinkle, “I have some concerns about your heart, and I need you to see a cardiologist and get clearance before I’ll perform the surgery.” Huh? So, off to the cardiologist I trotted, toothy, hairy tumor getting a free ride, and went through yet another series of tests. “I have some concerns about your heart,” I heard for the second time. “I’d like you to wear a heart monitor for a month. After I determine what’s going on in there, I’ll know how to treat the problem so that you can have the surgery you need.” Again – huh?? By this time, I felt a bit defeated and overwhelmed. I can’t afford to let myself feel that way for more than a day or two at a time, though, so I adjusted my attitude and returned to his office to be hooked up to the monitor and learn how to use it. I sat in my office chair afterward, crabby and pouty and annoyed at having to wear the thing. Getting up to walk around my house while wearing it took some getting used to, that’s for sure. Late in the afternoon, one of my best friends phoned. She said, “So. You have the heart monitor now, yes?” “Yeah, I’m wearing the damn thing.” “And just how many times have you gotten the cord tangled on a doorknob today and been yanked back into the room?” “Um…five.” “That’s just what I expected! I should’ve made a bet with somebody!” Once again, it was time for me to adjust my attitude. I asked friends how I should explain the monitor to nosy strangers. My favorite answers: “Say it’s the Lost Ark, and if they kept staring, it’ll open and kill all who look.” “Get fidgety and secretive and tell people, in a whisper, ‘I’ve been tagged to do covert surveillance for The Agency. Stay close to me. You’ll be OK.’ Then look around like you’re expecting trouble.” “Tell them you just escaped detention in the middle of a lie detector test.” “Tell them it’s your portable alternative fact generator.” “Tell them it’s to keep the government from reading your thoughts.” And, from my granddaughter, “I dunno. I just want you to take off your shirt so I can figure out how you’re all hooked up.” I’ll have days when I’m bummed out again, even days when I feel sorry for myself. Today is not one of those days. Today, I’m chuckling in gratitude at all the goofy, irreverent people who care about me. Sometimes, a girl’s gotta laugh! We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock Image By: Dynamic Graphics

Letter to the Mom Whose Child Acted 'Bratty' Last Night

Dear Mom, I realize you have become accustomed to accusing glances when your child cries and refuses to obey you in public. I understand people want to go about their public lives without the noisy interference of “annoying” children. I know this causes you to feel nervous, embarrassed, and perhaps a bit sweaty – you are likely familiar with that itchy, prickly sweat that comes from having a “bratty” child around judgmental adults. Well, Mom, I am lucky enough to know your little boy personally. I know he has spent most of his 3 and a half years of life seeing doctors, nurses, therapists, and other professionals. I know he has nearly choked to death more than once because of the difficulty he has chewing and swallowing. I know he’s lived through painful surgery. I know he has become frustrated at his inability to communicate; he knows darn well what he wants to say to the world, and his quick mind is betrayed by his health limitations. I know he has a grin that would make a seasoned criminal suspicious. I know he has the kind of determination and purpose company CEO’s would envy. I know his courage is such that he squares his little shoulders and says goodbye to his beloved mama when he goes to preschool in the mornings, even though he’s frightened to be away from you. I know he rushes to see you after school each day, except for the times when he’s assisting a classmate — when that happens, Mama will need to wait because this little man does not neglect his friends. Last night was a hot, humid summer evening. Your child smiled and greeted people; then too many people spoke to him. His cheeks became flushed, probably from the heat, but also probably from too much stimulation. He didn’t know where to place his attention, so he reacted to the heat and the over-stimulation the way that 3-year-old children do: he cried. He yelled. And because he hasn’t had the luxury of hearing as well as most of us, his cries and yells seem quite loud to us. Guess what? That’s not his problem. That’s our problem! You know how the adults at that gathering reacted to the heat and over-stimulation? We stepped outside to get a break from everyone. We wetted the backs of our necks to cool down. We made quick, snappish remarks to others who were on our nerves. You know why we didn’t cry and yell? Because we’ve had years, even decades, of practice dealing with such situations. Your little boy has only had three and a half years of practice. He reacted the same darn way most of us would have reacted when we were his age. Worried Mom, I want to thank you for the privilege of spending time with your beautiful child. I also want to ask you to look around you next time he acts “bratty.” Look at each of the adults who are witnessing his meltdown and imagine what a “brat” that adult must have been at 3 and a half! Then take a deep breath, trust yourself, and admire your child for being the funny, resilient, compassionate, strong-willed person that he is. Admire yourself while you’re at it, OK? I sure as heck admire you. Signed, A Former “Bratty” Child Image via Thinkstock.

Why I Write About My Rheumatoid Arthritis and Disabling Conditions

When I was 5 years old, my throat hurt. So did my head. I felt miserable, but I didn’t tell anyone. Not long after, my leg began to hurt. I still didn’t tell anyone. I walked the two blocks to my kindergarten each day, pretending I was fine. One morning, my body decided not to tolerate this stoicism anymore, and I collapsed on the sidewalk in front of my school. An eighth grade teacher saw me fall from his classroom window, ran outside, picked me up, carried me into the building, and wouldn’t leave my side until I was taken away in an ambulance. At the hospital, my terrified parents were stunned to discover that I’d been living with untreated strep throat, which cause rheumatic fever. As a result, I have to deal with damage to my heart every day for the rest of my life. Why? Because I refused to tell anyone when I was sick and miserable. Eleven years later, I was badly injured in an auto accident. When a physician told me my left arm needed to be amputated, I nodded and said, “Don’t scare my parents. Let them know it’s OK.” The physician looked at me with horror and refused to reassure my parents. He insisted on showing them my injuries and explaining how serious they were. My mother began to cry, and my father fainted. I didn’t want anyone to know how badly I was hurt. After this auto accident, I endured too many major surgeries to remember. I endured gangrene. I endured painful physical therapy. I endured debridement three times per day for nine days, and that’s an agony that I cannot describe. I never cried, not once, but I could not stop myself from screaming. My mother cried more, and my father fainted again. What I did not endure was amputation, because the physician who’d claimed it was the only option simply could not bring himself to cut off a 16-year-old’s arm. He sent me via helicopter to a different hospital to receive care from a different surgeon. He told me that I would never use my arm again. He grinned and nodded at me when I replied with an expletive about what he could go and do to himself. I asked for a cigarette lighter, and I repeatedly tried to light that thing until finally — two years later — I succeeded. Why? Because I refused to live as a victim. I didn’t want anyone’s pity. I was probably 35 years old when I realized something new was wrong. I didn’t tell anyone. Family and friends would feel hurt, angry and frustrated when I’d cancel plans because I was “sick.” I wasn’t diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis until I finally couldn’t stand what was happening to me and admitted to my doctor that I had a problem. By then, I was in my early 40s. I write about my disabling conditions so my friends and family members understand that I love them and don’t want to cancel plans with them, but that I sometimes need to do it. I write about my conditions so others with similar conditions feel less alone, and so they know we can emotionally help each other through the difficult days. I write about my conditions because for decades, I thought I was being strong by not complaining, by hiding my pain, by smiling and joking when I should have been resting my sick body instead of adding stress to it. I wasn’t being strong; what’s strong is being a vocal advocate for myself and for others who have disabling conditions.

Letter to My Husband Who Loves Me With My Disability

Dear Jerry, I met you at my sister’s house two days after one of my high school teachers referred to me as a “cripple.” I was a strong, brave kid, but that man’s remark shocked me and almost stole my confidence. I remember my class members seeming startled when the teacher called me that word; they seemed embarrassed for me, and they treated me with pity. You know me so well now, and you know how much I dislike pity. When you met me, however, you didn’t know this about me. Nevertheless, you didn’t offer me pity. In fact, you didn’t seem to think that my disabling conditions were very interesting. It wasn’t that you didn’t see my scars, or my wheelchair, or the splints and pressure bandages. You simply didn’t think that those things were more important than my personality. For years, we would seek each other out for conversation when we attended parties or cookouts. You always wanted to know about what I was studying in school. You would ask me about my friends and encourage me to tell you funny stories. I was always excited when I was invited to go someplace where I knew you’d be. I remember that your face would light up as soon as you saw me, and you’d make sure we could sit near each other. In my memory, all other conversations that took place around us sounded like the grownups in the Charlie Brown cartoons, because all I remember hearing was your voice and your goofy laugh. A few weeks before my 23rd birthday, my sisters and I had a pool party. I know now that you felt awkward when you showed up to hang out with my sister’s husband, because you didn’t want to get in the way of my sisters and me having fun with each other. You know now that I grabbed a shirt so that I could cover my scars when you arrived, but then I decided to be brave and let the scars show. I asked you later if you noticed how ugly the scars are; you said, “What the heck are you talking about? All I could think was that I better not make an ass out of myself in front of this gorgeous woman.” How long did you and I spend in that swimming pool with each other? Do you know? I don’t. We talked, we laughed, we swam, and we didn’t get close enough to touch each other. Then we realized everyone else had gone inside, and the sun was going down. Our fingers looked like raisins, and we both had sunburns, but we didn’t care. Five days later was our first date. Two months after that was our wedding. Once we’d settled into our home and started our life together, I asked you to teach me to mow the lawn. I’d never been allowed to do it before, because even when I wasn’t in a wheelchair, my family was afraid to let me try. You said, “Of course,” and taught me to use the lawn mower. You understood my sense of pride and accomplishment each time I cut the grass. You would give me your simple, sweet smile but not make a huge deal out of it. For 25 years of marriage, you have never tried to hold me back when I felt I could do something challenging. Heck, you didn’t even argue when I insisted we train on Superstition Mountain so we could hike the Grand Canyon! You also have never tried to push me to do more than I felt capable of doing, and you have never become annoyed at my limitations. If I am having one of my rough days, you shrug and push me around in a wheelchair. When I enter a room, you say, “Hey there, beautiful!” You see me, the real human being, and you make clear that you love this human being. You don’t sugarcoat criticisms of me when I get on your nerves, either! With you, I am a real, whole person. I’m not my disabilities; I am someone who happens to live with disabling conditions. Jerry, I often thank you for activities such as vacuuming, or working on a car engine, or buying groceries, or bringing flowers to my mom, or fixing my dad’s computer, or taking our granddaughter to the park. But do I thank you for how you nurture the core of our bond? Do I thank you for always seeing me as a person? Do I thank you for the fact that you still sometimes express amazement at how lovely you think I am? I don’t know if I thank you enough for the deep stuff. Thank you, my love. Gracias, mi amor. I fear that the words don’t do justice to my gratitude, but you’ll know how much I mean it. Why? Because you truly know me. Always, Erin