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You know the old adage: sleep well, don’t you let the bedbugs bite? I remember putting a little girl to sleep with this seemingly innocent rhyme during my babysitting years. (She replied, “We don’t have any bugs!”) But after seeing the tiny demons myself, this everyday utterance took on a whole new meaning.
Towards the end of 2015, bed bugs made me uproot my private life and completely rethink my life situation. I left the infestation – and way too many of my belongings – in the middle of treatment in Washington Heights and moved to Brooklyn. But when I realized the psychological effects had followed me (although luckily not the bedbugs), my cat and I flew across the country to live with my mother indefinitely. I returned after only two months and now, years later, I finally feel safe in my current apartment in New York. But it took all the time – and the obsessive washing and buying a bug-zapping machine – to get here.
I had enough acquaintances and friends who also got bugs to know that there was no way I could be alone when I felt like my relationship with my space was forever changed. I reached out to a few people with similar experience, as well as a certified insect expert, to find out how best to heal in a post-bug world – and what steps to take to prevent an infestation from occurring in the first place.
Regularly washing – and cleaning your belongings – can help you feel safe
Anna currently lives in Providence, RI, but ran into the dreaded bedbugs while living in Brooklyn. At first, when her roommate showed signs of being bitten, she couldn’t believe it. But once the realization became clear to her, her home no longer felt like home. “I never wanted to be there. I was scared of carrying a bug around with me, ”she says. In order to alleviate the fear, Anna “got rid of everything and stored everything I could”. She also relied on the high heat from two hour dryer runs to kill any insects in her clothes. She has since been the best bug pro in her social circle: “I got bedbugs many years ago, but it definitely helped me advise friends who had them,” she says. (A benefit to the experience?)
Investing in monitors can improve your security
New York native Brendan says his bedbug experience felt very “hurtful”. “It definitely affected my sense of security in my home,” he says. In an effort to regain some semblance of ownership over what was happening in his apartment, he bought passive bug monitors and began doing laundry more often. “Even if these things don’t completely rule out the chances of getting something,” he explains, “they definitely made me feel more in control and security.” Now that he got the problem under control, he feels a lot more appreciation for his (diseased) home. He is only now moving out three and a half years after bedbugs.
Adopting new habits can prevent future problems
Jennifer, another New Yorker, had the very unfortunate experience of getting bedbugs twice in the same apartment. The first time was scary, but she says the second time was “unbearable”. “My landlord accused me of hoarding, said it was my fault they were back and refused to pay for the treatment,” she explains. After a very “chaotic” fight with lawyers, “he agreed to pay for my treatment, and I agreed with GTFO.” Jennifer bought suitcases for her mattress and pillows and threw away a lot of her belongings, but the biggest change she made was moving to a new apartment after the treatment. “My current home is a safe haven for me,” she says.
Sheaths and extra vigilance can make it easier to close your eyes
Chelle had hit her with bedbugs in what was supposed to be the safest of them all – her parents’ house. A family friend had stayed in Chelle’s old room before moving home and leaving the infestation behind. But even after getting rid of the mattress and bugs, Chelle still felt uncomfortable. “After that I hardly wanted to sleep in the house, but I was also afraid to sleep anywhere else, for fear the bugs would have jumped on me and lay in someone else’s bed,” she says. Now that she is back in her own room, she continues to be “extra vigilant”. “I now definitely use the protective mattress cover in every bedroom. I also used high heat to dry all of my clothes and then put them in a plastic trash bag for about every month for about a month, ”she says.
Moving around can give you a clean slate (if done wisely)
When Emily got bugs, which she calls “one of the worst experiences of my life,” she too stopped feeling safe or comfortable in her own apartment. “Your home is supposed to be a place where you can relax and recharge – and that was out the window,” she says. Not only did she no longer have space to relax, the treatment itself was exhausting. “It is physically demanding to search all your belongings, to throw things away, to wash, to scrub. It feels like everything is dirty, ”she explains. After the exterminator finished the treatment and all of her belongings were faultless, she moved out. Now she feels positive about her home again.
How to prevent and treat bedbugs, according to an insect professional
Anecdotes can only get us this far, which is why I turned to Brittany Campbell, PhD, BCE, an entomologist and research scientist with the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), for expert advice.
According to Dr. Campbell are “bedbugs great travelers and easy hitchhiking on people’s belongings.” While there is no way to completely reduce the risk of getting them into your home, she recommends some things you can do to be as safe as possible to be possible:
A flawless home is one of the many factors that ensure that your space is a “safe haven”. But if you ever face these evil creatures, just know that with treatment and vigilance (and tips from Dr. Campbell and the five people I spoke to) you can rest assured that one day you will be safe again feel. We all did!