It’s been about six months since I had bed bugs.
God that’s actually one of the scariest things for me to write or publish on the internet because for some reason it feels even more shameful and like you will judge me than anything about my weight. (Which I guess is an eating disorder win, right?!)
And I realized, as everyone is panicking about bedbugs on Facebook and on the news right now, that potentially it wouldn’t be bad practice in honesty and using this blog that I rarely use anymore to help someone out there feel less alone, less ashamed, and less freaked out.
I got bed bugs. I spent a lot of money, but I survived. They’re gone (I am kind of superstitious so saying that feels like I am just asking them to come back but I’m going to write it anyway) and I can sleep again.
I lived with a roommate in South Philadelphia and we moved to a beautifully newly renovated bi-level apartment in March. It was pretty and there was a cool blue wall on the staircase (there still is, the apartment still exists) and we were pretty thrilled to be in a bigger, lighter place.
In May, my roommate started breaking out in what we thought were hives. She gets anxiety hives, and work was stressful, so we just chalked it up to that. She sent me and my mom pictures of her bumps and saw a doctor and we just assumed hives. I wasn’t having any reaction to anything, so it wasn’t much of a worry.
In June, when I was in California, Roommate called and told me she’d found a bug and it was a bed bug. Turns out they’re pretty easy to see, she found a live bug crawling on the bed and began calling exterminators. She found the Best in Philadelphia exterminator, and it would be 1200 dollars to heat-treat the whole apartment. I was in a wedding, so I tried not to think about it. We treated the apartment. I basically moved out to my boyfriend’s. I washed all our clothes in hot hot water. Skirts were shorter, shorts were a little tight, but hey, it was summer. We thought everything was fine.
Then, perhaps from Boyfriend’s job (in-home therapist) or from something I brought over, in August I was changing our sheets before a weekend in New York and saw a bug. And then I checked the corner of the bed, and there they were, those tell-tale little black dots. Like thin sharpie marks on our bed. And I panicked. And sobbed. And called the same exterminator who worked on the other apartment.
Bleh just writing about it is terrifying. So onto the next part of this entry. I obviously still have some bug PTSD (Excuse me while I start to feel itchy).
What to look for:
Not all bugs are bed bugs. Since the bed bug debacle, I have found a handful of bugs in/around my bed that I panic, send photos to my great exterminator, and are just normal house bugs. So make sure you identify it. Keep the bug in a plastic bag, tightly shut and call an exterminator and have them look at it. Check your bed when you change your sheets (I check weekly). Look for tiny black dots that smear a little when you touch them. They really look like sharpies. They like to stay on the seams of the bed or in the corners, but also check your mattress top for any blood stains. We found them early, a 3/10 infestation, and were able to fix it.
What to do:
Don’t do what I did. I freaked the fuck out. I sobbed and cried and rocked back and forth and read 18 hours of bed bug websites in the days after we found them. I would recommend not doing that. It did not help.
DO call the best exterminator. If you live in a city, there will be a bunch of exterminators who are good at bed bug extermination now. And do what they tell you. Bed bugs are sneaky little fuckers, and it’s worth spending the money to do the most effective treatment insteado using pesticides that won’t actually kill them and then you’ve wasted 300 some dollars and still have a bug problem. Don’t touch things, because bed bugs seem to have a way of knowing that you are going after them and if you alert them they could hide somewhere else and you have a bigger problem. Call a professional. It is worth the money.
Our exterminator was voted Best in Philly for bed bug extermination. They were extremely kind, unlike the large name companies I spoke with. And they did a multiple approach treatment: they did the heat treatment (basically they heated our entire apartment to 140-150 degrees for 8 hours, and every 15 minutes came in with these steam guns and steamed the shit out of the bed, corners, dressers, everywhere) and they also put pesticide in the walls so if any smart bed bugs went into the walls to avoid the heat, they’d die anyway.
What does the treatment entail?
Take everything out of the apartment that could melt. Take everything off the walls and push all furniture etc. 2 feet away from the walls. De-clutter (the boyfriend is crazy clean so that wasn’t a huge issue), take electric sockets off if possible, remove all animals for many days. Take all important valuables out. Bring all luggage out and open to be treated. Stay out of the house all day.
So on a Tuesday morning in the end of August, the bed bug killers came. We signed our life away, I handed most of my savings to the exterminator in cash (1,200 dollars). When I came back, it was 106 degrees inside and the apartment looked like it had been ransacked. Our neighbors were pretty curious, their walls were hot from our treatment. We said it was just termites. Everything was turned over, pulled out of drawers, pushed around from steamers and whatever else they did. One picture frame was broken, but small price to pay for bug-free-ness, I think. That night, we spent a few hours putting things back in order. I didn’t want to, in case we had to have ANOTHER TREATMENT because that one didn’t work. Boyfriend said that aws not reasonable. I found a cockroach hiding under a bag and flipped out, but the exterminator called me and was very kind and eventually I calmed down a little bit because he was confident they got them all and also, I have klonipin because i have an anxiety disorder.
In those three days, I took 14 klonipin. I usually take 1.5 per day. On the bug-finding day, I took 10. And was STILL panicking. Thank god for on-call psychiatrists.
The exterminator assured me we could keep our mattress.You pay the expensive money so that you don’t have to get a new mattress. But the room and the mattress were haunted to me now and there was no way I could do it. They don’t really tell you about the psychological PANIC that can accompany these critters. I had trouble going into our bedroom. We slept on an air mattress on the floor in the living room (I wouldn’t sleep on the couch because I had read too much about bed bugs and heard that they are attracted to your breath and I didn’t want them on the couch) for a week. I cleaned everything in the bedroom with bleach and vacuumed everything, standing in the room and crying and cleaning. Panicking. Anxiety and bugs and the internet are a pretty terrible combination.
So then we decided to just throw out the bed. It was labor day weekend, and there were sales, and I couldn’t get it together, so we thought we should just start fresh. So although I was panicky that we would transfer some surviving bed bugs from the bed onto our carpet (although they were all gone), we took the bed outside, I wrote DO NOT TAKE and drew a bug on it, and in a week or so it was gone. We went to a department store and bought a new mattress. I asked a lot of questions to the sale’s man about how they assure there will be no bed bugs on the mattress, especially since they deliver and pick up mattresses. He assured me the mattresses are wrapped in plastic and not opened from the warehouse to our apartment and the boyfriend reminded me things would be fine and I signed up for my first credit card and we bought a mattress.
And we also invested in a bed-bug cover that we put on the second the mattress was unwrapped. It keeps the bugs in? Or something? And shows their poop and stuff if you have them again, so they can’t get into the mattress. It was 50 dollars, my mother purchased it for us. I also got pillow covers. They’re itchy, but worth it, I think.
Also, we washed everything. I washed all of our clothes in burning hot water and through the dryer on super hot for an hour. Everything. Did things get ruined? Yes. Is it worth it for peace of mind? I think so. It sucks now because I can’t tell if my jeans are tight because I gained holiday weight or if they are tight from being washed in burning hot water and in the dryer for 2 hours for the first time ever. My nutritionist says I should just buy new jeans, so I think I’ll do that eventually.
Stay off of the websites. Seriously, do it. Be vigilant, obviously, and vacuum and check your bed, but the websites don’t help. I took sleeping pills for about a month and a half and checked the bed obsessively. My therapist and I worked on slowly checking less. I got down to once a week. Now I only check every month, when I make the boyfriend lift the mattress and I check every corner of the bed. I am sleeping without pills through the night. I put a pillow in the corner where the bugs were (they were on my side of the bed) still, but sometimes I forget to now. Unfortunately, boyfriend and I don’t show bites. But we had his parents visit us, and they do, and slept on our bed, bite-free. That was helpful.
We didn’t tell anyone, other than my close friends, because it’s so embarrassing and shameful and scary and anxiety provoking. But I kind of wish we had, because I don’t know who else has suffered and I now am a bed bug expert. I know what they look like and I know how to treat them.
I realize my survival method is dependent on income. We spent $1200 on treatment, $50 on clothes washing, $1100 on a new mattress, around $150 buying new things that I threw out (pillows, pillow covers, etc.). So total, we spent around $2500 total. And then if you include my therapy, which I was going to anyway but went to more, that was another 300 some dollars to make sure I got through the weeks without losing my shit. (And I still did). If you don’t have money, there are lots of ways to deal with them without spending your savings on it, at least the websites say so, but this is what worked for us.
So it’s been about six months, and we are bug free. I am sleeping again. I did make us change hotels in Vegas, buying a new hotel room on the plane with the wifi after realizing I hadn’t googled bed bugs in Vegas and there were a few alerts of them in the hotel that a friend had booked. Luggage does not go on beds ever anymore. Sometimes I have momentary PANIC when I’m in a public place (like this weekend when we were in the movie theatre watching Anchorman 2) but then I realize that even if, worst case scenario, it happened again? I know how to treat it. And it seems like it’s just something that is growing. So be careful, but don’t lose your mind. I survived them. You can too.