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“I become withdrawn completely and my responses are usually ‘OK,’ ‘Sure,’ ‘Alrighty,’ and if someone asks, ‘Are you feeling OK?’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.
“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.