Bedbugged! is a column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
I came home recently from a 12-day trip, my first outside the country since my most recent visit to Mexico at the end of 2009.
Sitting on my couch, I became aware of a curious feeling. I had been pleasantly surprised when I walked in to be reminded that I had taken the time to tidy the morning I left. Before that the place had looked as though an accountant’s office had exploded in there, and the accountant hadn’t made it.
But I couldn’t figure out what this feeling was. Well-being? Not quite. Contentment? Sort of. Then it struck me: I felt as though I were home! It was the first time I’d had that sensation since moving back from Mexico nearly four years earlier.
I sat there with this feeling, marveling at the familiarity and naturalness of it coexisting with the novelty, and thought about our concepts of home.
It’s our concept of home that is dashed to bits when we discover bed bugs. We feel entitled to a home, especially once we’ve gone to the trouble to procure and pay for it.
We crave a feeling of place, a solid base of operations from which to contemplate life’s impermanence.
I think of how loopy I got when my home was invaded by these damn creatures and tried to extrapolate to imagine what bona fide homelessness must do to a person’s mind.
Of course I was never homeless during this time, or at any time. But I did experience a feeling of disconnectedness from my living space, and even that degree of it nearly drove me insane.
This is what few understand about a bed bug infestation. It robs your home of its hominess. It saps your beloved dwelling of the very quality that gives you a sense of place in your world.
What is supposed to be a comforting space has betrayed you by hiding and sheltering your worst enemy.
It takes a while to recover from such a thing and to look at your home with the innocent eye you once did.
In my case, the length of time before that happened is not directly related to the bed bugs. This “homeless” feeling, for lack of a better word, was drawn out and exacerbated by the time I spent in the share, a move prompted by bed bugs but extended by economic circumstances.
Everyone’s experience will be different, but I’d bet that many of us feel a sense of displacement when battling an infestation.
How long does it take to get the “home” feeling back? This, I would think, is also different for everyone. There are so many variables. In my case it took six months of living in my current apartment, during which I slowly organized, having forgotten how to do so during my time spent first living out of plastic bags and then not having enough room to unpack fully.
In 2010 John Furman of Boot-a-Pest told me it takes at least seven years before you don’t feel like bed bugs are crawling around, even after treatment. That may have changed, since his number was based on his length of time in the trade.
“Seven years,” he said. “That’s how long I’ve been doing this. I don’t know of anyone who yet feels rid of them.”
It’s not that we think the bugs are there, though we may in the beginning. It’s also this overall suspicion, this inability to trust in the safeness of one’s surroundings enough to simply feel … at home.
I have felt rid of the bugs themselves for quite some time, but feeling as if my dwelling is a home is a different matter. I suspect that, whether you move as I did or you stay put as I would have if I could have, those of us who react strongly (I’m talking psychologically here, though I’m sure bite reactions play a role in that) look at our surroundings with mistrust for quite some time after having bed bugs.
But I can now say that time, as it does with so many life situations, heals that mistrust. With perseverance, patience and perspective, we can get there.
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.