I would rather have cockroaches than have bedbugs. I would rather have rats than have bedbugs. I would probably rather have an infestation of angry ghosts than have bedbugs.
Trust me when I say this: unless you’ve had bedbugs, you just won’t get this. That’s okay. I have no disrespect for you. In fact, I envy you if you’re never had to deal with the negative physical, mental, financial and emotional aspects of the literal hell that is bedbugs, and I use the word “literal” not at all figuratively.
When I first realized I had bedbugs, I went through the several phases of grieving as accurately as if a part of me had died. Infamously, the first stage is denial. Most articles you’ll read about bedbugs will tell you that the worst thing you can do is ignore the signs that you have them. That you should jump into action, bang on your landlord’s door screaming, hide in your closet with a spray bottle of two parts rubbing alcohol, one part lavender oil (bedbugs hate lavender oil because they’re tasteless demons from Hades), and that somehow this will do you some good. I’m certainly no professional—and I don’t negate this advice, but if you have bedbugs, you’re just fucked.
When I first moved into the apartment I lived in for the past five years until a couple months ago, I was nineteen. I was clueless. I’m still pretty clueless, but I’m getting gradually better with age. I moved in, settled, painted, decorated, revelled in the beauty that was my twentieth floor balcony in downtown Toronto, in a neighborhood where I might get stabbed but I wasn’t paying very much more than I could afford. Then I got a call from my father. He informed me that he had found my apartment building on “The Bedbug Registry”, a website where tenants can warn other potential renters that their building has bedbugs. A new type of “CONDEMNED” sign for the digital age, if you will.
I want you to all think about this for a second. There is no “Cockroach Registry”. I’ve never heard of an “Ant Registry” or online support group for tenants with a fucking silverfish infestation. This is your first window into the LITERAL hell that is bedbugs. I wouldn’t wish this shit on anyone. Bedbugs are actually so horrible, most decent human beings would not wish them on ANYONE. So much so that they take time out of their lives to warn perfect, faceless strangers about them.
When I got this phone call, I gave pretty much zero fucks. It’s only natural to assume that the things that happen in your life are products of your lifestyle, your choices, and really of things that you yourself have some level of control over. I lived in that building for four years before first discovering a bedbug and I can tell you my lifestyle did not change much, if at all over those four years. They can come for you whenever. They will come for you whenever. You won’t even see it coming.
Stupid, stupid, clueless girl.
The first stage is denial.
I have a vague memory of the first time I actually saw a bedbug and the thoughts that ran through my mind. I remember being on the phone, in my room, picking things up here and there and lifting my comforter to find a tiny dead bug taking up house on my otherwise clean, white sheet. It was so fucking small I almost couldn’t believe it had caught my eye. And I still remember the things that ran through my mind: “Is this a bedbug? No, it can’t be.” Was I on acid? Had I taken hallucinogenic mushrooms then forgotten about it? Anything, anything else it could be, must be what it is. I really, truly thought this.
I don’t really know why our brains do this when we’re in crisis. To keep from reverting into total panic, we convince ourselves that this bad thing that is happening, really is actually not happening, even when it is the most logical explanation, even when it is the only explanation. So I told myself I didn’t have bedbugs and I told others I didn’t have bedbugs and when I began discovering itchy, painful bug bites all over my body, I convinced myself that I was allergic to cotton, that I obviously had some sort of deadly skin disease, that I was reacting to stress, and that I was literally just imagining things. I did this for about a week before I had to admit I had fucking bedbugs, man up and deal with it.
The second stage is anger. And in the case of bedbugs, also almost total secretiveness. Bedbugs are shameful and embarrassing. Having them makes you feel gross and poor and unworthy of anything at all. Try this: tell someone—really anyone that you interact with on a daily basis—a friend, a co-worker, a family member, that you’ve just found out you have bedbugs and watch how quickly this human shamelessly runs the fuck away from you like you’re a rabid animal. Bedbugs are like a horrible, contagious disease. They’re like one of those STDs that you can never truly get rid of once you have. Even if the symptoms aren’t always noticeable, it’s still there, and you fucking know it.
I hate bedbugs. I can’t think of anything I’ve ever hated this much or been this crazy angry at. And it sucks because they can’t understand you when you scream at them. They will never sympathize with you when you cry. And the only time you can ever even begin to see them is after they’ve already been drinking your fucking blood, because before their first blood meal they are CLEAR. How fucked up is that? I cannot tell you how many times I have seen and squished a bedbug only to cautiously open up the tissue to double-check that the filthy creature is fucking dead and just think to myself “Yup, that’s my blood. There it is. I wonder where specifically he sucked this blood from? My wrist? My knee? Maybe it was the bite on my forehead. Which means this motherfucker was basically in my hair. I want to kill myself.”
I said I went through the several stages of grieving and I most definitely did. I bargained with God and with myself on the daily. “If I don’t see any bedbugs today, I’ll go to the gym. If I go to the gym today, maybe I won’t see any bedbugs.”
I was also depressed as fuck the first time I saw a bedbug after we had exterminated.
I was also depressed as fuck the first time I saw a bedbug after the second time we had exterminated.
And I eventually accepted that as long as I lived in that building, in that apartment, in that room, that I would always have bedbugs and I adjusted my life accordingly. I rubbed lavender oil on napkins and hid them all over my room. I kept a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol next to my bed to attack bedbugs with on the rare occasions I would actually see one. You don’t see them that much, but you know they’re there. You know from the bites on your arms and legs, and the dark marks on your curtains and the horrible feeling in your heart all the time.
I think one of the worst things about bedbugs is that they’re so small. No exaggeration, you can have a horrible infestation of bedbugs, spend a full twenty-four hours looking for just one and never even find it. They hide in cracks and crevasses and seams and places that most human beings who have not been so horribly emotionally damaged by a bedbug infestation would never even think to look for a bug, if they ever even found themselves looking for a bug in the first place. Your life becomes a dark and horrible guessing game, coupled with so many loads of laundry, you never want to see a washing machine again.
Anything that touched the bed remained on the bed until it was washed, which meant there was always a small pile of dirty laundry at the foot of my bed. Sexy, right?. I would actually lather myself with lavender oil before attempting sleep. If I felt so much as an itch, a movement, something even slightly foreign on my body, thrashing, screaming, digging through my blankets looking for vermin until my heart slowed, I gave up and decided to cautiously attempt sleep again. And I felt disgusting. I felt like the most disgusting human in the world, all the time. Imagine looking at everything you own, your favorite dress, your old stuffed animals, your nicest things, your most prized possessions and being perfectly and painfully aware that there is a good chance there are tiny bugs that want to drink all your blood, crawling and living all over them. It’s not a good feeling.
I haven’t lived in that apartment for about three months now. When I moved, I did my very best to wash and dry all my clothing. I literally threw away my bed, couch, curtains and pretty much anything else I couldn’t throw into a washing machine. Yet still when I moved into my beautiful new apartment with my newly washed belongings and my usually pretty-okay boyfriend I found myself in a ball on the floor, screaming and sobbing because I knew that there was no God damn way I could know for certain whether I had brought them in with me. Hell, when I am sitting, standing or lying anywhere and feel anything that I can’t attribute to myself, or another human in close proximity, I of course assume it’s a bedbug. Any crumb or piece of fluff that ever catches my eye on a pillow or the couch is a bedbug until I pick it up with a tissue and examine it under a light. And anytime I have anything that resembles any sort of bug bite at all, a loud and frightening alarm starts to go off in my head.
I feel like I have some weird kind of PTSD that will never quite go away. I feel like I will never quite be the same. I guess it’s not a bad thing to be a bit more aware, a bit more prepared, a bit more cautious, but I can certainly tell you that I never expected a bug—or I guess to be fair, a group of them—to have such an effect on my life. Having bedbugs has left me emotionally crippled. I still feel like I’m slowly recovering every day. I could tell you that what you should take from this is caution, and always be on the look-out for bedbugs and be super careful to make sure you don’t have them…but as I’ve already mentioned I don’t really think this will do you a ton of good. It’s super fucking hard to realize you have bedbugs.
You can be pretty horribly and negatively affected by a lot of different things in life I guess. I never thought a bug infestation would leave me so damaged. Philosophically, what you should probably take from this is that you can be pretty wonderfully and positively affected by a lot of random shit too. And also? Just be fucking nice to people. It’s so cliché to say that everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about, but what I can tell you from my own experience, is that if you were a total dick to me when I was in the midst of dealing with bedbugs, I definitely would have gone home and cried or pictured several different ways to remove your head from your body. Life is fucked up. There are a lot of fucked up creatures that want to do fucked up things like suck your blood and ruin your life. Just don’t be one of those creatures. And be aware of what can happen to you when they enter you life. That’s really the only advice I can give.