Mental Health

Psychological Warfare

Our bed is supposed to be one of the most sacred and peaceful places in the universe. A place we can seek refuge in after a rough day and recharge for the next. But where do you go when your bed is the place that feels the least safe and makes you the most anxious? Your mind is racing thinking about where they might be lurking. Or if you're like me, you can't stop strategizing what you're going to try the next day to fight them or picking up your phone to look up one last question and two hours later, you're still awake. When you finally do get relaxed enough to drift into sleep, you think you feel something on your skin, jump out of bed and turn on the lights to check the covers.

Does that sound familiar? You're not alone. Anyone who's been through a bed bug infestation can relate. All of that anxiety and loss of sleep can take a toll on us. I remember the day after we discovered the bugs, going out during my lunch break to buy supplies. But who was I kidding? I read about how impossible it is to get rid of bed bugs and horror stories of people that had them for years and could never completely finish them off. The despair combined with spending the past day obsessively reading anxiety-inducing article after article and getting zero sleep was too much to take. When I got back to my car, I'll admit it...I broke down. And shedding those tears was such a relief. I went on with the day and tried to not think about them until I got home. There were many more days like that for me and my family but each got a little better as we grew in knowledge and saw our progress.

One of the most underestimated dangers that bed bugs pose is the mental and emotional impact it can have on us. But just like with bites, not everyone reacts the same. Some people just view them as a temporary inconvenience and hardly think twice about them. On the other side of the spectrum, some are so traumatized that they can't think of anything else. My personality definitely put me closer to that end. This section is dedicated to those of us in that category. Even if you're not, it might be good to read this so you can better understand someone else in your family who isn't reacting the way you are. So here is my advice from my own experience of how to look out for your mental welfare during this difficult time.*

You CAN Beat Them

Don't believe the stories that say you can't get rid of bed bugs. Every day, thousands of people win the battle. As with all things on the internet, it's hard to find a happy ending and much easier to run into the nightmares. Many of those are exaggerated and represent a small minority that have extenuating circumstances. 99% of the time, you can get rid of bed bugs and it won't take years or tens of thousands of dollars.

One of the best things we have going for us is that they are predictable! They aren't trying to outsmart you. They're just trying to eat and reproduce like all living things. We know where to find them and we know where they're going. They can only walk and they are fragile. You can pop one in your fingers with a light squeeze. Even if they have built up some resistance, treatments are still effective on them.

At first, I felt overwhelmed at the thought of having to find all of these tiny bugs hiding in every crack and crevice in the room. And they multiply so fast, for every one I kill, there'd be 10 more the next day. But I was so relieved when I finally understood, you don't have to find every bug to kill every bug. Yes, you should monitor with interceptors or traps to see how you're doing but you shouldn't expect to catch every bug. Trust that the treatments are doing their job. Bugs are dying every hour as they hit the residual chemicals and the dusts. Each time you bag your bedding and clothes and throw them in the dryer, you're taking away a hiding spot. Every time you vacuum and steam, you're getting a few more without even knowing it, probably even eggs before they have time to hatch. You just need to make your home inhospitable enough that they can't maintain their numbers and with time, there will be none left. Knowing that took a huge weight off of my shoulders.

If you get bit after starting treatment, I like to think of that as that bug's last meal. They had to come out of the safety of their hiding spot and walk across the treatment and now their days are numbered. There's a good chance that that same bug will never bite anyone again!

man jogging

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

If you are just beginning this fight, be sure to set your expectations that this is going to take time. Every form of treatment requires a few follow ups spread out across weeks. You really shouldn't declare victory until at least 5 to 6 weeks have passed without seeing any bug activity or experiencing any bites. Don't be discouraged if after several days of quiet, you get a bite or see a bug. I recommend keeping a calendar to measure your success. For each day, write down the number of bugs seen alive and dead, and how many bites you had. Hopefully you will notice that those numbers are steadily going down with each week. Don't change strategies every day. Give it time and if after a week or two, it seems like you're trending in the wrong direction, then, consider making adjustments or looking for other potential sources. Usually, there will be a significant drop off of activity right after treatments begin and you'll experience a trickle afterward. A bite every couple of days, then once a week, then none for 10 days, etc. Remind yourself that YOU ARE WINNING THE BATTLE!

trees in park

Keep Living Life

It's easy to let bed bugs completely consume your mind and energy but when you are going through any challenge, it's more important than ever to KEEP LIVING! Your life isn't defined by this one temporary situation. Make sure you take time to step away and not think about bugs every hour of the day. Take a walk outside in the park or around the neighborhood. The fresh air is so refreshing when we are under stress. Watch a ball game or go out for dinner. Visit friends and family. Be careful with your clothes and bags if going over someone else's home but it can be done safely with precautions. You shouldn't put your life on hold during this because it's going to take a while. We need positive distractions to keep our sanity!

"The bugs were still there but we were starting to take control now and they could wait a day."

Even while you're in your home, there are things you can do to change the mood. I remember the first few days when I was helping my mom with her infestation, we were both so tense we hardly spoke while we were working around the apartment. Then, I decided to put on some music. It's amazing how much of a difference it made having some 80's pop playing in the background. We were able to joke around a little and instead of feeling like we were fighting for survival, it was more like a spring cleaning project. Another time, we decided to just take the night off and I ordered out. We had dinner and watched a movie. Yeah, the bugs were still there but we were starting to take control now and they could wait a day.

If you're like me, it's hard not to obsess when something is worrying you. It's not healthy researching bed bugs 24 hours a day. All of those pictures and stories just add to the anxiety. So establish a worry time each day. For example, "From 8am to 9am, I'm going to allow myself to do some research and focus on the problem." If it's not during that time, tell yourself to wait until the next day during that hour. Avoid late hours before bed. You need to be thinking happy thoughts in the evening rather than working yourself up. If you can put them out of your mind for just a few minutes, you increase your chances of getting some rest.

Long Term Effects

woman stressed at computer

Even long after the bugs are gone, the experience stays with many of us. It can change the way we look at things. I used to go to a movie theater and only focus on the movie or just plop right down on the bed after arriving at a hotel. Not anymore! And if I got an itchy spot on my arm or leg, I'd assume it was a mosquito and not think twice about it. Now I've got to study it and look for more. Every mark on the sheets requires a closer examination now. Yeah, it's traumatizing.

But weren't we just naive before? Ignorance is bliss but I'd rather be aware of the risks. The knowledge and experience that we gain from going through an infestation can help protect us from future encounters. We know what to look for now and where to look. We know how to respond if we are exposed to them to prevent them from coming home with us. These are good skills to have because the bugs aren't going anywhere. My friends and family know the routine now and actually feel safer knowing that I inspect our room when we travel before settling in. Everyone needs a party trick right?

Balance is key. It's one thing to be vigilant and another to be fearful. Finding that balance can be challenging but time heals. The anxiety will lessen with each month that goes by and you'll think about them less and less often. Every trial we overcome makes us a stronger person and this will be one of them you can add to your trophy case.

* If you ever have thoughts about harming yourself or others or your property, please talk to someone and seek professional help. Don't be ashamed or feel weak. This experience can be extremely stressful and many have needed a little support to get through it.

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