Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
The unpacking was underway. I pulled my things out of storage and started to take out possessions I hadn’t seen in two years. Suddenly I noticed some bed bugs.
It’s ok, I told myself. There’s no way they could be alive. I knew the stuff had been in storage for more than the 18 foodless months required to make sure the critters are dead. I had been careful to avoid bringing the bags from the storage place into my apartment.
So these bugs were definitely not alive. But suddenly they started moving, propelled by a barely discernable breeze. Desiccated, they were so light that the slightest zephyr could send them skittering. And skitter they did. They almost looked as though they were scurrying.
Suddenly there were loads of them, all skittering in different directions, and I began to freak out. I started doubting that they were dead, even though they could not have survived sealed in the storage bags.
I awoke with a start. And realized that, barely three weeks into living in my new apartment, I’d had my first (and I hope only) bed bug dream. It was inevitable, I suppose. I had noted a day or two before the dream that any eggs that had been on the moving truck would have hatched by now, so I was definitely home-free. Then I had the dream.
This one was an improvement over what happened to me after my last move, of course: The flip-out, my feelings that I should have done more, and then, of course, the bug scare itself, based on an actual bug. This had been a dream, and I’d known the things were dead in the dream and couldn’t hurt me, though of course the dream also threw that into question.
I had been planning to delve a little deeper into the after-effects of bed bug infestation. I touched on it in a column last year, but this was a full year and a half after I'd left my bedbugged abode. I knew that the change in dwelling had no doubt sparked new fears, as the moving truck had.
I got on the phone with Cal Adler, a psychiatrist and an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati who had given a presentation on psychological aftereffects of bed bug infestation at a Chicago summit last fall. I told him about my dream.
“It doesn't surprise me," he said, adding that he was actually surprised I didn't have more dreams about it.
“Bed bug infestations can be a major traumatic event that keeps on coming," he said. “It doesn’t go away quickly.”
Adler likened it to the feeling that people have after a burglary.
“It involves something in your home, which is a place we go to be secure," he said. Once it's invaded, it takes awhile for you to feel the same. If you ever do.
“People come back to that again and again--that they were in their space, in their home. I think it’s one of the elements that makes it traumatic.”
He said he also sees similarities to other major life events.
“It’s the same kind of thing that we see with bereavement, with divorce, with major losses," Adler said.
Such reactions vary greatly from person to person, as they do for any illness or event. For someone like me, it's more a matter of letting time pass. I actually consider this dream to be an isolated incident, and understandable in the context of my moving. It was my mind's last throes of "what if?"
For someone whose flashbacks, dreams or memories are intrusive and interfering with functioning, the best advice I can give is to seek the help of a professional who specializes in helping people get past traumatic life events. For you will get past it.
Theresa Braine is a NYC-based journalist and bed bug survivor whose work has appeared in the NY Daily News, People, Newsday and other outlets. Bedbugged! is her bi-weekly column about life in the trenches and climbing out with your sanity intact.
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