Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
Awhile back I told some family members that I was going to be on a panel for Brick Underground about bed bugs. I was excited. My relatives were not.
“I’m going to be speaking about bed bugs with an attorney and the city’s best pest-control guy,” I said, waiting for the accolades.
“It’s time you stopped thinking about that all the time and moved on,” someone at the table said.
Suddenly I realized what I looked like. Rather than appearing as someone who had overcome adversity and was now keeping one foot in that troubling world—as I thought of myself—I instead looked, at least to some people, like someone who was stuck in her victimhood, unable to move on into the present in the wake of the experience.
I understood completely, and stopped talking about it. I realized in a flash that no one who had not been through it could possibly understand what draws a person to glom onto the topic and keep trying to educate people.
On the other hand it got me wondering a bit. Why am I doing this? What else is there to say about bed bugs, really?
Then I received a missive from someone, a reader, who was afflicted. She told a long tale of how crazy it was making her: the anxiety; the lack of sleep, and most of all, the sense that you looked nuts, when you weren’t really—you were just dealing with a nutty situation.
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I identified with so much of it, especially with the feeling of being unable to control or get a handle on things no matter what she did. And the wondering if they were gone.
She said that reading my column made her feel as though a friend was going through it with her.
There are also the occasional queries from friends, as with the guy who took a road trip recently and wanted to know how to check a hotel room.
And then there are the conversations that I still, even nearly two years after escaping my bedbugged apartment, seem to strike up with complete strangers, as in the case of a guy who I started chatting with in one of the bodegas near my house.
I don’t even remember how the subject came up. He turned out to be the super of a number of buildings in the neighborhood, and he did not have a clue as to what to do when bed bugs arrived.
“I tell them they’ve got to tell me [about the infestation] and not to try [to do the extermination] themselves,” he said, which was good. But it was clear that he didn’t know the first thing about what should be done.
And the myriad other people with whom it comes up:
“Oh, you just throw out your mattress,” I hear. Or, “Oh we’ll just call the exterminator. I guess the landlord does it.”
“Oh, hasn’t it died down? You don’t read much about it nowadays,” is another refrain.
The definitive answer to that is no, it hasn’t. And that is another reason I keep writing about the bed bug epidemic. Because they keep reproducing regardless of how much they are in the news.
And as long as people think the things they think about the creatures, bed bugs will continue to spread.
As such it upsets me greatly to hear anyone talk about bed bugs with authority, unless it is one of the pest-control guys or entomologists I have on speed dial.
So many people think they know about this bug. They do not realize the intricacies of an infestation. They do not understand, until they get bed bugs themselves, what all the dynamics are.
Of course, I can see the ways in which the information will never filter through. People see a bug, they kill it. They have no idea what they are dealing with. The cruel irony is that, as with many things in life, you are not equipped to deal with bed bugs until after you’ve had them.
But I will keep at it anyway.
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 weekly column about life in the trenches and climbing out with your sanity intact.