Bugging out - Bed Bugs Stir Extreme Anxiety
Friday, October 7, 2011
Having a case of bedbugs can cause people to feel so
desperate they make irrational decisions that can cost them more
than just money.
Sandy Rubenstein, a bedbug buster in Yarmouth Port, Mass., says
she's seen a woman washing herself with an ointment intended for
horses, people sleeping in mosquito nets, and wrapping their beds
in plastic and double-sided tape. She watched as folks threw out
everything they owned and tried using hamsters as deterrents,
hoping the bugs would bite the rodents instead of them.
When you're on the outside looking in, it's hard to imagine why
people would spray themselves with poisonous pesticides. But the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an elderly woman
in North Carolina died after using large amounts of pesticides and
coating her body with bug spray and flea powder. More than 100
people have made themselves sick using pesticides to kill bedbugs.
Some people have been so anxious to get rid of bedbugs, they burned
their houses down. It may take weeks or months to get rid of the
pestilence, but victims say the psychological effects of the ordeal
can last a lifetime.
"You can kill the bugs in people's beds, but you can't kill the
bugs in people's heads," says Rubenstein, who started the company
PureHeat after spending 18 months (and $40,000)battling between
2007 and 2008. "It's a paranoia that stays for life. You never get
over having bedbugs."
Annie Lynsen of Silver Spring, Md., has a current case of
bedbugs in her apartment, and she's doing her best to cope. She
discovered the bedbugs after spending weeks thinking she and her
husband were being bitten by mosquitos. Then, in mid-September, she
saw a bedbug crawling up the mattress.
The apartment is in disarray while the couple waits for the
exterminator to come every two weeks. They've laundered and bagged
their clothes, pulled furniture two feet from walls and live in
chaos. They can't visit friends, can't have guests, and feel
nervous they'll miss celebrating Thanksgiving with relatives.
"I know there are bedbugs in my bed, and I have to sleep there
anyway because I don't want to spread them elsewhere. That's really
the horrifying part," says the 31-year-old marketer. "We have
sleepless nights and nightmares. I feel like this is the night
something is going to come out and bite me and I don't know what's
going to happen to me in the next eight hours."
Lynsen thought she did everything possible to avoid bedbugs,
including encasing the mattress in a bedbug-proof cover, and
keeping her luggage off the floor in hotel rooms while traveling
this summer. But she acknowledges she forgot about the box spring,
where she found a large infestation.
"We're better now than when we first discovered them," she says.
"We couldn't shake the feeling of being unclean and having this
idea of things under the bed trying to get us. Now, I'm stronger
because I know something is being done."
Feelings of being out of control are what makes people suffer
most, says Myrtle Means, a clinical psychologist with offices in
the Detroit area.
"That causes the greatest distress," she says. "Don't focus on
the what ifs, focus on what is. 'I have bedbugs. What do I do to
get rid of bedbugs? I can call an exterminator.' You begin to feel
helpless and hopeless and like the situation is unmanageable.
Bedbugs are manageable."
After she instructs clients to call an exterminator, she suggest
they identify what is causing the greatest amounts of stress and
anxiety such as not having the money to handle the situation,
possibly having to move or throwing away their belongings. She also
suggests reading the book, "Anxiety, Phobias and Panic," and trying
relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and
imagery, imaging themselves in a calming place such as on a beach
or lying in a hammock.
Although she sees bedbugs daily, Rubenstein manages her own
paranoia by being extra cautious. She tosses her clothes in the
dryer when arriving home, pulls back the sheets and headboards in
hotel rooms, and never puts her luggage on the floor. She warns
people to stop bringing home used furniture unless it's from a
reputable dealer and certainly avoid taking items from a roadside.
Check on elderly friends and relatives, who may be unaware of
bedbugs. Taking precautions, she says, are much better than dealing
"Your bed is your sanctuary; it's where you go to relax," she
says. "When you get them, you think they are crawling on you all
the time. You wonder where they are hiding and you can't relax. It
makes people suffer on their jobs and in their personal lives."