Got Bed Bugs? Bedbugger Forums » Psychological and Health problems caused by bed bugs (besides bites)

Talking to people about bedbugs

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  1. Munched

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Wed Jul 8 2009 12:46:32
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    Like most everyone here, I have my own story on another thread.

    A common complaint I've heard is that dealing with an infestation tends to drive people into isolation and loneliness. We don't like talking about bed bugs. We want to keep our problem a secret. Of course we do. We don't know if people will understand. We don't know if we will be thought of as dirty, or seedy, or promiscuous. These are all rational, healthy fears; although handling it all alone is not necessarily a rational, healthy response to those fears.

    So, I decided to try a little experiment: I told everyone. I told family. I told friends. I told my boss. I told my condo property manager. I told random people I'd never met before at parties. Here's what I found:

    First, most people have no idea that bed bugs actually exist. I had dinner with a visiting friend from New York and she had never heard of them, which is crazy! If you are the first person to introduce this topic to them, you have been given a golden opportunity to create the right impression.

    Second, the first thing people start to wonder about as you recount your tale is: "Can I get them from you? Are they on you right now?!" For this reason, you need to put the Here's why you're not going to get them from me part of the conversation right at the front. More on that below.

    Third, at some point very early in the conversation, you will notice them scratching somewhere. Point this out to them! Thinking about bugs of any kind will cause your mind to be hyper-aware of sensations on your skin. Most people do not know about this psychosomatic effect. It is your job to ease this fear by pointing out to them that everyone does this. I usually say something like: "Oh man! See how your scratching yourself? It's really interesting how just talking about bugs causes you to start noticing the movement of every hair follicle on your body. I swear, every person I tell about this starts scratching right away."

    Fourth, people will tend to mirror your current emotional state as you describe the bugs. If you get all worked up and agitated telling your story, they will get worked up and agitated. You do not want this. Even if the content of your message is agitation, try to deliver it calmly. I often say something like: "Yeah, they totally suck. You don't want them. I've kind of been in full on freak-out mode since I found out about them." Notice that even though the content says, "I've been freaking out!", the delivery says, "I have this under control so you don't really have to worry."

    Here is how I talk to people about bed bugs:

    1. Introduce the topic

    You will almost always be given an opening in a conversation to talk about it. Make sure that you have time to spell it all out. You do NOT want to say "By the way, I'm dealing with bed bugs" as you are making your good byes. Make sure you have time to tell the whole story, so that they can leave with their fears allayed, not inflamed.

    2. Allay fears

    Get to the part where you tell them why they can't get infected by you as you are talking to them. Remember, people do not know anything about bed bugs. They frequently associate them with things like lice or scabies. They are going to wonder if they can sit in a chair you've sat in or whether they can shake your hand. Make sure they understand that they are safe. Actually, before that, make sure that you understand that you are safe. It's important that you are telling them something that is both true, and that you believe to be true. Here is how I do it:

    "Well, first of all, you can see the adults. They're up to half a centimeter. You can see the babies too, but they're really small, so they're hard to notice. That doesn't matter though, because they really don't like being anywhere around you when you're awake. They're not like fleas with tough little bodies. They're fragile. They want to get you when you're asleep or at least stationary and they don't live on or in your skin. They pretty much only come out at night unless they're really hungry. They're not very good climbers. They're not like ticks that stick out these hooks trying to grab on to passers-by. Still, none of that matters because I keep all the clothes I wear outside in a plastic bag. Before I go out, I open up the bag and put on my 'outside' clothes. When I go home, I'll take everything back off, put it back in the bag, and put on my 'inside' clothes."

    At this point people are noticeably calmer. They have a story they can tell themselves about why they are safe.

    3. Recount your tale

    This part is optional, but I like to make sure that they know that I didn't get bed bugs by sleeping with prostitutes in a dirty motel out on Aurora. Given a vacuum of information, people will fill in the story themselves and I want to make sure they have an accurate narrative. It also seeds the idea that this could happen to anyone.

    4. Educate

    This is your chance to be a soldier in the war against bed bugs. It is a war against ignorance. The points I make sure to hit are:

    • Bed bugs feed on blood, preferably human. They do not eat and should not be associated with filth.
    • It's worth washing and drying all of your clothes when you come home from travel. If they're dry clean only, you can probably just run them through the dryer.
    • Inspect a new apartment well before moving in. You don't want to move into an infection.
    • If you suspect you have them, resist the urge to handle it yourself. You can't fog them away. You can't just throw out your mattress. There are well established protocols for getting rid of them. It's a total pain, but it's the only way to be sure.

    It's hard going at first. Start with a close friend and branch out as you become more comfortable. Dealing with bed bugs is horrible, but it can be a lot less so with some public awareness. No one is embarrassed if their garage has spiders. We don't hide away in our homes because we got some mosquito bites. Bed bugs are just another pest that we, as a society, need to be aware of and deal with. You can help make this happen. Be strong. Shed the shame. Set an example. Peace and bite-free nights to you.

  2. stricken

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Wed Jul 8 2009 14:11:31
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    Kudos Munched,
    I love this post. Everything you said is right on the money. I am doing some of that now and plan to do more, but you point out rightfully so that people will freak out if you freak out telling them. I am from now on changing my tune to something a little more positive.
    Cheers,

  3. wirehead

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Wed Jul 8 2009 14:44:43
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    This is a great post. It should be a FAQ.

    I actually told pretty much everyone, too. Since I live in NYC I feel the need to educate folks. I'm appalled that, though your average New Yorker is aware of bedbugs in a very general way, we don't all know how to inspect and what to look for. I've tried to position myself as a resource for my friends and coworkers, and have given them all some basic advice, such as encouraging them to encase their mattresses.

    Sadly, even though I'm comfortable talking about it, I've found that people don't really want to hear about it.

  4. bucky

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Wed Jul 8 2009 17:36:16
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    what an outstanding post! This should be in FAQ definitely! Thank you for your advice.

  5. MyWorstFear

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Wed Jul 8 2009 19:46:52
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    LOL, you'll still find (many) people who will claim "Oh, we don't have to worry about bed bugs because we only stay in "nice" hotels!" Obviously, they were not listening! Even my husband (who's considered quite an expert in his field) just doesn't get it even now! Sigh, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink!"

  6. Desparate

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Wed Jul 8 2009 20:16:36
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    While education is nice, having experienced the problem and finding out now what is involved in getting rid of it is pretty much like telling people that you have the plague. I am certain that if I told anyone, no one would want to come into my home for fear of carrying them home with them and no one would want me to come to their home or even near them.

    Education on this issue needs to be in the hands of the media and health departments. It is not a matter of someone thinking you are dirty (though likely they will) but the reality of don't give it to me because I can't afford to have to live with it or have to get rid of it. This is not a simple problem to deal with - it is not like going to the store and buying some ant traps. This problem brings on a major expense with no alternatives other than to live with being bitten every night.

  7. cantstandbedbugs

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Wed Jul 8 2009 22:42:19
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    I told 3 of my friends, my family and no one at work. 1 of my friends completely understood because she had to prep her apartment for treatment because 1 person in her building had them and the landlord went ahead and treated everyones apartment. She came to my NY one weekend and of course didn't tell me or visited me and I can't blame her I also was suppose to go to her house for 4th of July and didn't because I was afraid of spreading them. I haven't told her I still have them after 3 treatments, tomorrow is my 4th. 1 of my friends just said they are on the rise in the area where he lives he also said something about dirty and the 3rd friend.. said I was dirty that my apartment is dirty that I need to move that she never had to deal with them because she's clean.. this reaction certainly deters me from telling anyone. I only told my family that visits me because I don't want them to think I'm trying to cut them out of my life and if they still choose to come over its at their own risk and they know it. I don't even think if the media or the health department informed people that they would listen. I know in my pre BB life I could careless about them. I was too busy worrying about my job, life, etc. until I got them. I don't even want to be around people (don't want to go to their house don't want them coming over) I don't even want to go to work if I could telecommute until the problem is resolved I would but that option is not available to me. As for not spreading them from just talking to people I would imagine that is if I'm talking to them on the phone. I will always think I'm contagious to be around. Even if I took the precautionary measures not to spread them.

  8. Nobugsonme

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Wed Jul 8 2009 22:50:16
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    This should be a FAQ! What say you, Munched?

    I started and run the site but am "not an expert."
  9. paulaw0919

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Wed Jul 8 2009 23:47:13
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    I think this is an excellent post! Add it on....good food for thought!

  10. Munched

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Thu Jul 9 2009 10:42:30
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    Wow! So much positive feedback! I'm touched.

    Yes, I'd be delighted if this was in the FAQ.

  11. angie

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Thu Jul 9 2009 11:31:10
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    Very nice post, Munched. I did get the chuckles on a few of your parts. I think that this does explain how people see those of us with bedbugs. Hopefully, your post can help other newbies!!

  12. bugbait

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Thu Jul 9 2009 23:55:38
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    Great post - so true. At first, I could not stand the thought of telling anyone, but when the dark circles under my eyes became so noticeable (day 2!) I had to tell the folks at work. Then it became a mission to educate everyone I know.
    Definitely should be in FAQ's..... great job!

  13. Kimberleena

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Fri Jul 10 2009 2:26:11
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    The one thing I love about this post, is that I didn't think bed bugs were real either!! I always thought it was just some silly old saying my grandfather would say before we went to bed. As a child I had always eqauted bed bugs with the monster living under my bed. I was AMAZED when I found out that they were real, and that I was highly allergic to their bites.

    So, like Munch, I've been telling everyone about my experience. But Munch seems to do a much better job of it than myself.

  14. Jason1

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    Posted 8 years ago
    Fri Jul 24 2009 22:05:30
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    I agree with everyone else, excellent post!

    The people i've told my bb story too, it's not so much that they didn't know or believe bb's exist, it's more about how they think I got them.

    Telling me I must be living in a "pig pen", or stop inviting "filthy/dirty" people into my apartment.....or stop visiting them. Same things people say about cockroaches!


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