Got Bed Bugs? Bedbugger Forums » Psychological and Health problems caused by bed bugs (besides bites)
PTBBS--Post Traumatic Bed Bug Syndrome(14 posts)
My story is pretty basic--I lived in a huge apartment complex with buildings composed of eight apartments each. Back in November last year I found the first signs, was in denial for like, a week, and then went into full bed bugs hysterics. I let my apt complex know and they treated that day. I bought covers, a new vacuum, my bed and carpets were treated with steam, and I felt relieved for about a day. But I had trouble going to bed at night, I always felt I could feel them crawling on me, and I had a few breakdowns about it to my roommate/best friend, who in turn ended up distancing himself from me because he thought I was being stupid and overreacting (they were never in his room, the lucky jerk.) I was on this site every day so much so that I just had to stop because it was so overwhelming.
My apartment was treated weekly for over a month and I thought after December I was in the clear. Then, about eight weeks later, after absolutely no signs (and trust me, I was checking obsessively) I found a single bug, but no other signs. So, the treatments started again, my room was cleaned again, and the walls were even painted so that any signs of them would be easily spotted--we very easily pinpointed where they were coming in. There were a few clusters of fecal matter where the wall met the ceiling right about where I slept. So the cycle started again, no signs, continued vigilance, and again, eight weeks later I found one lone speck of fecal matter in the same spot where they'd been coming before. After this, I was so frustrated with my apt complex blaming me for everything that I didnt even tell them. This time I very carefully dusted my room with DE and for the last two months I lived in the apt I didnt see anymore signs of them.
I have since moved back home to my parents house and instead of finally being relieved that this entire situation is behind me, I find myself constantly checking my bed here. I have white sheets, white pillows, a white comforter, and a white bed frame and I'm constantly checking for those damned tiny dots of dreaded poo. Seeing as how the only things in my room now from the old apt are clothes that were freshly washed before they were brought here, theres no way bugs would be in this house unless they'd traveled home with me before I realized I had the infestation back in November. But still, I find myself almost unconsciously checking for any signs. I realized how unhinged I am when tonight I was reading a book that I just brought home from a used bookstore today and found two tiny black dots on one of the pages. I felt my heart skip a beat and did the smear test on them. They barely smeared, in exactly the way you'd expect ink to smear on a page. But still, the thought went through my head, oh no, they're back!
When will I ever be over this? Its been nine months but still, I check my bed every night and freak out if I ever see anything suspicious. Logically I dont even think there was a chance I brought any back with me from my apt. I threw away the bed, only took two pieces of furniture home, neither of which are in an inhabited part of my house right now, and I think they were finally gone after I treated with DE. Actually I dont think they were ever fully there after December. My apt's management was absolutely clueless and I'm pretty damned sure the bugs were coming from an adjacent apt. My room was treated chemically and with steam and the PCO firmly believed both times they were gone. And each time, like I said, there was a huge discrepancy between sightings.
But all of those logical facts aside, I'm still wrought with the paranoia that having bed bugs for an extended period of time will bring to most sane people (okay, mainly women...at least according to anecdotes from this site), and I have no one to talk to about it. Anytime I mention anything about it to my father he yells or scoffs because its easier to be derisive towards me than to entertain the thought that he might have to go through it himself.
Please tell me there's hope. While I have gotten (significantly) better since the initial infestation, I would have thought that by now I wouldnt be checking for them religiously anymore.
Thanks for reading, if you've made it this far. Just being able to share my story has actually made me feel a bit better.
I have anxiety disorder so this is a nightmare for me.
I visited my parents right before I noticed the signs, and I am as concerned as you are.
Mainly, I would revisit the life cycle of the bugs themselves. How long do bug eggs last? Is it likely that freshly hatched nymph would have found someone to feed on? Wouldn't that have happened a few months ago? If you've honestly searched so much, you can rest easy in knowing you've done your level best to prevent and to inspect and that you can feel that you've gotten past it.
It's logical to check once and a while to prevent, but if you're doing it everyday. Maybe just breathe and ask yourself if it's necessary step right then.
I had bed bugs over two years ago - and I have moved twice since then. My anxiety and paranoia has not diminished. It does for a little bit, but I see one little bump on my body and it's off to the races. I check my bed almost daily, my couch frequently, and worry when I go to friends houses or public places that I will get reinvested. It's horrible! The fact that I get random bumps/marks on my skin frequently makes it worst --- I convince myself in a minute that we are infested, despite the fact that it's only ME having these feelings--- and that when I did have bed bugs, I did not even get bit! I feel for you --- it is REALLY difficult to go through this, especially because its not something I found my self comfortable with talking to lots of people about. Two years later, I still talk about it with my family and boyfriend weekly
Scared, love the name of your thread. I totally have that and it's 3 years since our encounter with bed bugs. Every night before I will get into bed I have to check under the covers with a big f!ashlight. Not that I would even see anything most likely, since it takes me barely 60 seconds, but it's a habit now, and I just can't get into bed without doing that. One thing that really helps though, is David Cain's Passive Alerts. If there are any bed bugs they are supposed to go to the Alerts, and you'd see them within 48 hours. So, really I just need to check the Passive Alert, but with PTBBS I just have to keep my "rituals" and can't give up the flashlight!
A number of people describing similar experiences to yours on the forums have said they benefited from seeing a therapist, psychologist or other mental health professional.
Your title PTBBD is not far off, from what I gather. At least one forum user was diagnosed with "Acute Traumatic Stress Disorder" in the aftermath of bed bugs. From what I gather, it did not take a lot of counseling sessions before she felt much better.
I mention this in case it's helpful and an option for you. I am not a health professional but as I understand it, anxiety of the kind you describe can be treated (with talk therapy, or medicine or a combination). You've been through a stressful situation, you're anxious, and there's nothing wrong with talking to a professional about it.
I will allow PTBBS only if I cant also get PTBBCS on the rmedical record at the same time, the difference being PTBBCS usually only affects pest controllers as it stands for Post Traumatic Bed Bug Client Syndrome.
OK Joking aside and don't get offended by the dark humour but the reality is that some people cope with bedbugs better than others. Having met over 35,000 sufferers in the last 9 years I am still no closer to understanding why some people deal with the issue better than others.
I can only really speak from UK finding but I would say it is as many as 1 in 10 who do not cope well with this issue. Of recent I have had to put my armchair counselor hat on and explain to many people that if they take the same energy that they put into stressing into dealing with the infestation it will resolve faster. That is in fact the saddest reality of this issue, stressing does not help and focusing, elbow grease and tough love work wonders and speed up clearance of cases.
In the worst cases I prescribe weekends away at country retreats with health spa's so that people relax in a more conducive environment and start to put life back on track. Outside of that CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) works very well in most cases of post traumatic stress if done well.
I can only offer the advise that most do get past it and I have often been amazed at the strength that some people show despite having been dealt another tough hand of cards on top of the difficult situations they are already in.
Hope that helps.
Bed Bugs Limited
I appreciate your insight here... 1 in 10 represents several thousand affected individuals from a sample group of 35K ... There are no established numbers for the impact on US mental health yet, but I would expect that future research will confirm your observations and find similar results.
It takes a lot of the skill I showed you in coconut grove to get rapid resolution but I cant teach that skill as you know.
That demonstration in Coconut Grove was incredible... Your clients are very fortunate people indeed.
One aspect of this acquired fear is based in human physiology... There is an involuntary form of conditioning involved... It is called respondent conditioning... All humans are subject to this form of conditioning.
Respondent conditioning can occur when an emotional state is paired with an event... The conditioned emotion is subsequently reproduced in response to both external (cues from real world) and internal events (thoughts & images) after the sensitizing event(s).
Due to individual differences in background, cultural influence, genetics and personal philosophies...We would expect that some people will be impacted more severely than others.
CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is very helpful and I highly recommend it... I believe that advanced imagery techniques can be utilized to desensitize fears very effectively as well.
There are an alphabet soup of imagery approaches... My preference is Traumatic Incident Reduction aka TIR... TIR is not hypnosis... (Hypnosis with a skilled practitioner is also a good choice BTW)... The fears can be desensitized utilizing visual imagery in a structured format
Alternative approaches that reduce stress are also helpful... Meditation, yoga, visualization, deep relaxation tapes, massage, biofeedback, affirmations, acupuncture and energy therapies are good examples.
David demonstrated an energy therapy in Miami.... An energy blast was directed at an individual that I felt seated 4 feet away in a sidewalk cafe... I was seriously impressed... Keep in mind that I was trained to be extremely skeptical during graduate school... I am not easily impressed.
Energy therapy is an excellent choice... if you can locate a qualified practitioner.
Some people may need medication in the short term... Please be careful and very skeptical... In 20 years of practice I have never seen anyone that was cured by Xanax, but it may be useful if it is used as a temporary bridge back to recovery.
Group therapy can also be very helpful... I think that the new Google group audio visual service has a interesting potential for inexpensive delivery of moderated group meetings regardless of geographical location.
Keep in mind that respondent conditioning is completely involuntary...But it is still your choice to do something about it... David's suggestion to put your energy into resolving the problem is important advice... Many people do not start to recover until they begin to feel safe... It is really hard to feel safe when you are still in the midst of a bed bug infestation.
Many will recover on their own, others will not.... still others are less affected due to individual differences like stoic personal philosophies or a stress resistant physiology.... People with pre-existing anxiety issues tend to be most affected.
I suspect that mixing BBs up with PTSD is unlikely to help in the long run.
We don't have reliable data on the psychological effects of BB infestation (though we jolly well ought to have by now) but there seems to be some clear water between PTSD & people's descriptions of the depression, debilitating anxiety, & phobia associated with BBs. Such problems are significant & require serious consideration - in trying to distinguish between PTSD & the effects of BBs on mental health, I am in no way trying to minimise or disregard those effects.
Purely based on my own observations, I don't see many people reporting symptoms that square with a diagnosis of PTSD. I've certainly not seen anyone wishing they could go back to life with BBs because they feel they function beter that way than in life without BBs (the feeling that one can only function well in circumstances of extreme stress or danger is not uncommon among PTSD sufferers). PTSD is not just about anxiety indeed, given the frequent presence of dissociative symptoms, anxiety may be quite a small part of PTSD for some sufferers.
I'm not going to go into all the points at which PTSD appears to diverge from the psychological effects of BBs, not least because some people suffering from depression & anxiety are at an increased risk for mirroring symptoms. The very last thing I want to do is make anyone feel worse.
There is no hierarchy to mental ill-health. The media still promote the outdated notion that there are serious mental illnesses & all other problems are mere neuroses or failures of moral fibre. This is utter nonsense. If a person's ability to function is seriously impaired by their psychological problems, then they are sufferering from a serious mental health problem, regardless of the diagnostic label.
It can be tempting when discussing one's mental ill-health (given the poor public understanding of the issues) to refer to conditions that have a high public awareness in order to illustrate the severity of one's difficulties. I do not doubt for a moment that some people suffer psychological problems after dealing with BBs that are just as debilitating as those experienced by some sufferers of PTSD. I would suggest, however, that this is the limit to which we can say that the mental health effects of BBs are "like" PTSD.
PTSD is still an area in which few psychologists have genuine specialist training. Severe anxiety, depression, & phobias are much better served & sufferers have a better chance of accessing useful help. That at least should be grounds for optimism when trying to address the psychological fallout of BBs.
I know from one case that it is entirely possible to already have PTSD that is subsequently complicated by BBs, but remains a significant problem long after the BB-related anxiety & phobia have been resolved. Sample size equals one, the plural of anecdote is not data, contents may settle in transit, & all the usual caveats apply; but my gut feeling is that confusing BB issues with PTSD could turn out to be counter-productive for sufferers.
As a mental health professional and a BB victim, I see my own symptoms as more indicative of a general anxiety disorder. I get that sense from other posts here, too, although it's impossible to know for sure without talking to someone personally. Anxiety starts off as a natural physical response that prepares you to deal with an immediate stressor. Some stressors, like BBs, are not immediately resolvable, and the ongoing struggle worsens the anxiety. Depression is often things like anger, anxiety etc. turning inwards when you feel powerless, so I suspect that depression could well come into play for people dealing with long-term BB problems.
Thanks. I agree it's not right to mix up bed bugs and PTSD, and I hope I did not add to that. I do think people who are suffering anxiety due to this should not be afraid to seek out a counselor, as the person I mentioned did.
For most people that are heavily impacted, the appropriate diagnosis is going to be Acute Stress Reaction... The official definition of PTSD has changed with the revision of the APA diagnostic manual (DSM IV TR)
Additionally, there are dozens of other potential diagnostic codes that may be related to the stress that accompanies an infestation experience... Depression, insomnia and anxiety disorders are all good examples.
It is possible for a person to qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD due to a bed bug infestation... if the stressor is perceived to be severe... but in many cases we would be observing an exacerbation of anxiety symptoms in an individual with a previous history of severe trauma.
The revised APA DSM IV TR PTSD definition dropped the... "event outside of normal human experience that would cause significant symptoms of distress in almost anyone" language... a few years ago.
Experiences that fit the DSM IV TR definition of a severe stressor event will not produce PTSD symptoms in every individual... Studies have found that roughly 8-10% of people that have experienced severe trauma will develop symptoms that meet the specified criteria.
Personally, I don't feel that it is productive to focus on the diagnostic label... It really doesn't matter what we call it..
If the symptoms are interfering with our ability to function normally... It is reasonable to say that this emotional disturbance is a problem that needs to be addressed... regardless of the label that is assigned by the APA to describe it.
One of the best books ever published about psychiatric diagnostic labels was entitled "The Myth of Mental Illness" by Thomas Szasz... Szasz makes compelling arguments that our system of applying diagnostic labels to human behavior is based on artificial constructs that obscure our understanding of the true nature of the behavior.
We need to focus on resolution of the emotional issues and resulting behaviors instead of becoming tunnel visioned on the diagnostic labels... Every individual has a unique experience of thoughts, emotions and behaviors that a system of diagnostic labels cannot accurately describe without unacceptable distortion of the experience.
As I said before... The respondent conditioning that occurs during a traumatic event is completely involuntary... but it is still your choice to decide to do something about the conditioned emotions and behaviors that result.
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