Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!
The following blog post is one of the original pieces I wrote on the previous version of Shadow✨N✨Shine that lived on WordPress. As you may or may not know, I've been republishing previous blog posts that got lost in the domain transfer over to Wix earlier this year. This post, is one of those posts. So sit back and with spooky season creeping up on us, this may be just the scary story you need to hear!
It’s 2020 and we’re in the middle of a pandemic right now, riots and protests have been at the forefront of the news, murder hornets came and went, and the political arena has been a hot mess of a circus. To say 2020 has taken us straight into the Twilight Zone would be an understatement. For many people this year has been a nightmare with health problems from Covid-19, job loss, financial struggle, and more. This year has not been a dream for me either, but even at this point, as I write this blog post there is still a year that beats out 2020 for being the worst (at least for me personally) and that would be 2016. 2016 was the year I was severely depressed for months, homeless for a period of time, and nearly took my own life. Why? Two words: Bed bugs. It’s been four years since I climbed out of that pit of despair and a lot has changed in my life since then. This story has always been a story I’ve wanted to share on my blog, not only to share what I’ve been through but in hopes to help others who may also be going through the hellish journey of eradicating these teeny-tiny bloodsuckers themselves. It can be a lonely, isolating, terrifying journey, so I hope it helps anyone who comes across this to develop the tools and skills to defeat this problem, to know they are not alone and they will get past this disastrous season in their lives. I realize I could’ve written about this much earlier in my blog’s lifetime, but for whatever reason now this time. Perhaps now is the time someone needs to read this. I was thinking of topics to write about for my next blog post. The previous three posts were all coronavirus related, which is fine and great, very appropriate for what’s happening in the world right now. But I honestly had nothing left to say about that topic, at least as of right now. As I brainstormed what to write about next. I didn’t want to write something totally insensitive to what’s happening in the current condition of the world, but I also didn’t want to continue writing on the same topic either. So I decided now would be the right time to take a page out of the bed bug story, because pandemic or not, someone else may be going through it.
June 1st, 2016 was the day. After making my bed that morning I saw a small little Appleseed like looking creature crawl across my comforter. I had never seen a bed bug before. I didn’t know anything about them, but I found it odd to see a bug of any kind on my bed. It’s not like this was a fly that flew in through a window or a spider that came in through a crack. It didn’t leave me feeling good though so I went to my source – google, and sure enough, Google described it as a bed bug. A sinking feeling grew in the pit of my stomach, so I called my former slumlord to tell him what I found. He was in disbelief it was a bed bug but agreed to send an exterminator over to inspect the situation. The exterminator came over and confirmed that yes indeed it was a bed bug and sure enough, he uncovered an infestation happening behind my bed! The next 72 hours were brutal and something like I had never been through before. Exterminating bed bugs is not as simple as coming in with a little spray and out. It’s extensive, expensive, exhausting, and time-consuming. June of 2016 also just happened to mark my ten year anniversary of living in LA. Nine of those ten years, I’d spent in that apartment that was about to get torn up, inside and out, because of bed bugs. I couldn’t believe this was how I was celebrating my ten year anniversary in LA. It was a studio apartment, so I literally had to empty out the entire apartment, with the exception of the kitchen and bathroom. Bed bugs love anything comfy and cozy like bedding, couches, chairs, clothes, towels, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, etc. Additionally, they prefer wood and paper items as opposed to metal and plastics. Which means everything had to cleaned, cleared out, or thrown away. I literally had to move everything out in 72 hours before they came in to do their treatment of the apartment. Here’s a rundown of what I did:
1. Threw away anything that wasn’t necessary or important to me anymore. A lot of garbage bags went out into the dumpster.
2. Began mission laundry on crack. This meant taking every article of clothing, bedding, towels, etc. that I own and spending days way beyond that 72 hours at the laundry mat doing laundry in hot water and the highest level of heat possible to dry everything. Heat is a big way to kill bed bugs and their eggs, so things must be washed and dried thoroughly in very hot temperatures. Hotels frequently use heat treatments for bed bugs since they are more susceptible to them due to travelers. Stuffed animals and even shoes were thrown into the driers at the laundry mat to make sure everything was clean. I tragically lost a pair of Skechers from doing this. They actually shrunk! Oh well, I replaced them.
3. Brought sensitive items to the dry cleaners. For items that were very delicate or expensive, I took those to the dry cleaners. These were things that had sequins, designer, and handbags I could not possibly clean myself. I was honest with them and told them about the bed bugs, so they did have a special treatment to treat the items, and this way they could also keep my items isolated away from other client’s belongings.
4. Bought a million big plastic storage bins from Target. Ok, maybe not a million, but a lot of them. For items I could not take to a dry cleaner, laundry mat, or part with tossing in the trash, those things had to be quarantined basically. This was for items like books, photo albums, DVDs, decorations (both holiday and otherwise), picture frames, little trinkets, and figurines, etc.
5. Opened a storage unit at Public Storage to put all those items in the giant plastic bins away safely for an extended period of time. Little known ugly fun fact: Bed bugs can live up to 18 months without feeding, which means anything you can’t treat or don’t want to throw away needs to be locked away in storage, untouched for 18 months. That’s exactly what I did with these items. They were tucked away in the bins where they were sealed up with gorilla tape because the containers must be airtight in order for it to work.
6. Bought vacuum-sealed bags from Bed Bath & Beyond to store my entire wardrobe, bedding, towels, etc. after things were cleaned at the laundry mat to also place in storage. My new home in essence was Public Storage because everything was there. I would have to make frequent trips there to get changes of clothes etc.
7. Rubbing alcohol on everything. Rubbing alcohol also helps rid bed bugs. Probably also a terrible fire hazard, but I bought bottles of the stuff and put it into spray bottles. I found myself spraying the walls if I saw a bed bug even remotely move. I sprayed and cleaned every CD and DVD I own (which is a lot) with it. I don’t even remember everything I sprayed with rubbing alcohol, but it was a ton of things and I’m sure I got a good contact high from that stuff. It was terrible.
8. At the time this happened I had three parakeets. I have two now and one dog. Thankfully my dog didn’t come into my life until after this mess, but birds are extremely sensitive and can not be around extermination fumes. I read nightmare stories about other people’s birds dying after bringing them home after an extermination. I took my birds to be boarded at the vet. I didn’t know how long they’d stay there. They wound being boarded for two full months, more to come on this as to why which goes far beyond a simple extermination.
9. Went down the rabbit hole of bedbugger.com. While writing this blog post I attempted to revisit that website today to sadly be greeted by a message that their website is under maintenance. It said to check back by 2/19/2020, which it’s far beyond, so it looks like 2020 has gotten to bedbugger as well. This made me sad because I found so much useful good information on this website, and particularly through its forum when I went through my own hell of it. There was so much I didn’t know that I learned from there and it’s very important to know your enemy well, so you can defeat it. Since bedbugger may not be available today, I hope my story helps as an aid to help others. I’m sure there must be useful information somewhere out there though on the internet.
10. Prayed, cried, screamed, and did everything but sleep. Considering I did majority of this within 72 hours, virtually cleaning and moving everything out of my studio apartment, I slept on average 1-2 hours each night. This was my new existence and had completely taken over my life.
Perhaps you ask how I did not notice the bed bugs earlier than seeing one crawl around on my bed? Good question! Despite having a full-blown infestation I did not itch and I did not have a single bite mark on me. That’s not to say that I wasn’t getting bit, because I’m sure I was! However, bite marks only appear on you if you are allergic to them. I am not, so I went a long time without even knowing they were there. In fact, the way bed bugs know you are there is they sense when you exhale. They pick up on the carbon dioxide you exhale, which is what attracts them to you. The CO2 is like an aroma to them that their food is ready. In essence, the only way they won’t know you’re there is if you stop breathing! As I moved my entire life out of my apartment that weekend my neighbors approached me asking me if I was moving out. I was honest with them because they lived there too, and I felt they deserved to know so they could be aware and prepared themselves, I told them I had bed bugs. What surprised me was their lack of surprise. I came to discover that at least two other tenants in the building had battled bed bugs in the building within the past five years! Additionally, when each of them contacted the slumlord to take care of the problem, the slumlord ignored it and did not have their apartments treated at all! They were left to fend for themselves, which was why these critters were still making rounds in the building, and I was apparently up next on the chopping block!
Extermination day arrived and after I had thoroughly done my part, the bug man came in and sprayed down the apartment. Considering it was a studio apartment, I literally had nowhere to sleep because of this (my bed was completely thrown out minus the bed frame and headboard) I slept in my car parked in the carport. Considering the exhaustion I had it didn’t matter. I slept for 10 hours in my 2007 blue Volkswagen Beetle convertible that night and it was honestly one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had in my life. My mom was not thrilled with me sleeping in my car, so the next night she put me up in a Hilton for a night so I could get real proper sleep in a safe place. Sleeping at the Hilton unfolded for me my “new normal” for how I stay at hotels. Since hotels and motels can be a way to bring home bed bugs I have a whole process now whenever I check into a room, and it’s not pretty. All of my luggage stays in the bathroom the entire time because bed bugs do not like spaces like the bathroom, preferably putting my suitcase in the bathtub. I take out my flashlight on my phone and literally inspect every nook, cranny, and crevice of every comfy chair, couch, and the entire bed, its sheets, pillowcases, mattress, etc. I know what to look for, but I don’t rest until I know it’s clean. In 2018, when I did a cross country road trip I did this at every stop. Thankfully I’ve never encountered a problem, but I can not consciously relax without tearing it up first. This is how I know I now suffer from bed bug PTSD. More to come on that as well.
When I was able to return to my apartment I bought an air mattress to sleep on, but the birds remained at the vet to ensure their health and safety from any toxins. For bed bugs, you need to go through several treatments because of their eggs and any babies that are hatched between treatments. By now my slumlord was bugging me trying to tell me I had to pay for everything, which I stood my ground refusing to do considering I merely rented and they were the owners, therefore responsible, especially considering they never took care of the other tenants before me. After the final treatment, the slumlord offered to have the carpeting ripped up in my unit and replaced with wood laminate flooring that they would pay for and provide. Bed bugs love carpet and would much rather live there, so I agreed to help prevent further infestation. The handyman (the only decent person working for management) came in and did his job. He took up all the carpeting, and then it was just left like that…. In its place was dirty cracked cement with glue on the floor that was at least 20 years old. The dirt was so bad from taking up the carpet it lingered, circled, and filled the air. The air was thick with it and you literally could not breathe in it. No amount of circulation would clear it up. Conveniently my slumlord decided to go on vacation at this time and completely abandoned the idea of putting down the wood lamenent floor as promised. This was the point where I officially became homeless.
I couldn’t stay in my apartment anymore because it was unlivable. I had no floor and the air quality was unbreathable. I consulted a lawyer. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do without involving my neighbors and everyone getting on board to form a lawsuit together against him. However, I was able to get some valuable legal counsel to know what direction to go in. Even though I could not live in my apartment I was advised to continue paying rent anyway. It was better for me to look like the flawless, perfect tenant should anything go to court, that way the judge finds me blameless in the trail of my slumlord’s mistakes. So here I was, paying rent on an apartment I could not live in for the foreseeable future with not having anywhere to live, therefore making me homeless, because who can afford two rents?! I thought it couldn’t get any lower when I was cleaning out my apartment on an hour of sleep each night. I was wrong. This was the low point. My mind hurt, my emotions had sunk lower than they’d ever been, my body was exhausted. I was done. Late one night I sat in my car in Atwater village, not far from my broken apartment that had been mutilated by bed bugs. I was not alone thankfully. My best friend, who had been going through this experience with me sat next to me in the car. I was in hysterics. I had reached that point where I was serious. I was ready to get out of the car, walk into traffic, and never come back. I was done. I didn’t want to live anymore. I was homeless, suicidal, and ready to die. I couldn’t see what was worth fight for. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t know how I had gotten into this situation. Every safety and comfort I had known was stripped from me. I felt completely abandoned by God. Had my best friend not laid her entire body across me, restraining me, I probably would not be here today. She saved my life that night. I am forever thankful to her for her friendship and support that night and through the entire ordeal.
Thanks to a church Facebook group I found someone I could stay with in the interim who had a spare room, a single mom with the cutest and sweetest little girl. For the next month, I stayed at her place down in Westchester (near LAX). It was a haul between there and where I worked up in Hollywood near my bed bug home, but I was grateful for the place to rest. She knew my situation so she didn’t ask rent of me, as she usually rented out the room. She knew my rent money was already going to my broken apartment. My mom had a heart for this giving single mom though and paid for my stay in her room during that time, so it worked out well for everyone. I fought hard during my stay there to get back home. I was on the phone regularly with housing and health departments, because it was up to them at this point to crack down on my slumlord and force their hand to fix my apartment or they’d get massive fines. Of course, my slumlord tried to force me to pay for the new floor, that they promised to replace themselves, which I did not do. My friends were another way I survived this ordeal. I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of love, support, encouragement, and prayers I received from so many during this time. Here I was afraid no one would want to be near me in fear they’d get a bed bug from me, but all they did was love up on me. Returning to church helped a lot during this as well. I hate rough times, we all do, but I also grew so much closer to God during this time. A type of closeness that could not be achieved during a season of blessing. Mental, spiritual, and emotional sanity is so important when you’re going through a traumatic event like this. I will never be the same after going through this experience, in some ways for the better, in others for worse. In good ways, I am stronger than what I was before, closer to God, and coming out of this experience my life definitely got an upgrade (more to come on this soon). In bad ways I will never be able to stay at a hotel the same way ever again, I still sleep in my perfectly clean and better new apartment with diatomaceous earth (a powder that cuts up any crawling bug’s body when they go through it) surrounding my bedroom floor as if I’m doing a seance, my bed pulled away from the wall, and have massive anxiety and PTSD specifically connected to bed bugs (it’s a real thing, I have a therapist for it and my dog is my ESA because of this).
It was the housing department that eventually broke my former slumlord down and cracked down on them hard enough to convince them to give me a floor, a real livable floor. My slumlord was so upset with me for doing that, but they left me with no choice. They weren’t doing their job! After the wood laminate floor was officially laid down and installed before I returned to my apartment I had it literally industrially cleaned. From all the bed bug poison and dirt from the cement floor being exposed for so long, the unit literally needed a lot more than a mere mopping. After hiring Serve Pro to come in and industrially clean things, with a big air filter, included to purify the air, myself and my birds were finally able to move back in come mid-August. By the last week of August, I got a much-needed break for a week of fun and I was able to forget all the bed bug/apartment troubles for a while. My all-time favorite group, 98° was in town to do a show at the Microsoft Theater at LA Live and then another one up in Saratoga at the Mountain Winery that I had tickets for each to and had purchased before all the bed bug hell broke loose. My bestie and I enjoyed a much-needed break at the show in LA and the following day headed up to the Bay Area, where she has family friends that we stayed with. We enjoyed a coastal drive up the 1 going through Big Sur and had a fun several days in San Francisco, San Jose, and other areas around the Bay Area because we desperately needed the vacation and escape for a while. A few days later was the Saratoga show and not much later after that we descended back down to LA. 98° has always been a major part of my life since 1999, but man oh man, that year they were a part of the many lifesavers I needed during a very dark time of struggle. They were a light in it, just like they’ve always been.
While in the Bay Area I received a phone call from the housing department. They had uncovered yet another bombshell, but this was outside of the bed bugs and floor. They unraveled the fact that my apartment was actually an illegal unit. In the words of Chandler Bing - “Can open, worms everywhere!” Sadly it actually didn’t surprise me. Apparently all your utilities being included in your rent is a red flag that your unit is illegal, which is what I had and apparently there are a lot of these in LA. I thought it was a good deal though, unaware of what it meant. To be clear there was nothing physically wrong with the unit to make it illegal. I had my own entrance, fully operating bathroom and kitchen, etc. Apparently they took a two-bedroom apartment and split it. One part became my unit – a studio apartment, the other half became a one-bedroom apartment. The illegal part is they never officially registered it and did the paperwork behind it. Because of this, this meant I could not live there anymore (I wasn’t planning on staying there anyway due to the bed bug problem, but this put the nail in the coffin). I also had to move before it turned into a legal eviction, because they legally evict you in a situation like that, even though it’s not your fault. I did not need that on my record for something I was not at fault for! By now it was September and my bestie and I were on the search for an apartment to be roomies and hopefully find something really good quickly. Rather than use websites like apartments.com, we researched Yelp reviews. It was really important that wherever we moved to the management company actually cared and took care of their tenants. But we were also nervous with neither of us having stellar credit histories. The ball of nerves returned in fear I’d be homeless once again, but this time long term, in the race against the clock to find a decent place that would approve us.
Eventually we set our sights on this place that had absolute glowing reviews of this property manager named Pam, who apparently took really good care of the building and held everything together. My best friend very persistently reached out to Pam and we checked out an available apartment in lovely Los Feliz. We knew this was going to be our home. During the process of waiting to be approved we didn’t know how things would pan out. We still had to keep other options in mind, but despite all the uncertainties and zero promises we had that peace that surpasses all understanding. Not too much later Pam contacted us to deliver the good news that we had ourselves an apartment, a real legal apartment! I was gladly excited to be paying a utility bill knowing it was legal and on the up and up. It’s a one-bedroom apartment, but it all worked out very well. I took the bedroom and my best friend took the living room. Since then she has moved out since that time, the entire apartment is mine now. But for the season she was here, it worked out exactly as it needed to. October 1st was moving day. Exactly four months prior all hell broke loose and after being under tremendous pain and pressure we were moving into a new chapter and shedding an old skin that was definitely worn out. I told my previous slumlord I was moving, literally at the last minute. I didn’t care. I had a new home, their unit was illegal anyway, and I knew I’d never deal with them again. I owed them nothing. So we settled into our new home in October. Pam has been an angel that helped bring me out of nightmare from hell. She had incredible sympathy and understanding of where I was coming from. And we were welcomed into a new community with many neighbors who truly love, support one another, and treat each other as family.
In the remaining couple of months of 2016, I got a brand new bed for my birthday in early October, my first real bed of my own to sleep on in months! My best friend got a futon so we had a bed/couch situation in the living room. In November my dog, Shadow came into my life (which is an interesting story and could be a blog post of its own) and I went home for Thanksgiving that year to help my mom with spinal surgery she had. December was filled with holiday fun, traveling home once again for Christmas and New Years, and finally heading into 2017 there was peace once again in my world. As I said though, there are some ways I live now that I can never seem to live the same again. Four years later and I still have my bed pulled away from the wall. Diatomaceous earth surrounds the parameter of my bedroom. I have outlet covers on every unused outlet (bed bugs can crawl in that way). And like I said, hotel stays are a bit more stressful than they used to be, despite me still loving to travel. I honestly believe the only way some of these habits will change is if I live in a house one day, not attached to other people by sharing walls with others. The belongings I had in storage remained there their entire 18 months as recommended. In January 2018, after the holiday season of 2017, I began slowly, but surely pulling things out of storage. I wanted to close the storage unit anyway. It was a lot to spend money on storage rent each month. However, because I like to be extra thorough to make sure I don’t experience bed bugs ever again, I wanted to make sure nothing was alive in coming out of storage.
I went online and purchased a PackTite Heater. It’s a special heater you can place items in at 120° for several hours at a time. This will kill any bed bugs or eggs. Granted, my belongings were probably clean as it was sitting in isolation, airtight containers for 18 months, but I wasn’t taking any chances. As every book, every photo album, every DVD, every Christmas ornament, came out of storage they all went through the PackTite before being set up in the apartment. It was quite the adventure because the PackTite helped heat up the entire apartment for one, and secondly, it was like a walk down memory lane. I was seeing things I forgot I even had, I hadn’t seen them in so long! By the time the storage unit was closed down and every last item had been through the PackTite and put away in a normal place in the new and better apartment it was safe to declare the war against bed bugs was over, won, and my life was finally back. Considering now I was in a much better apartment, surrounded by so many wonderful people, now with a loyal and loving dog by my side that wasn’t there before, going to Disneyland all the time as a passholder, taking cross country road trips, living my best life, gaining more business in my new location, experiencing so many blessings, my life by far was upgraded from where I came out of in 2016.
You may be wondering what happened with my former slumlord after all this. Did I sue him? Did he get his? Well, I did attempt to take him to small claims court for the max amount allowed in California, which is $10,000.00 but unfortunately, it was a failed attempt. We never even made it to court. As the plaintiff you’re not allowed to serve the defendant papers yourself, someone else has to do it. And no one was able to track my slimy, slick, former slumlord down. He’s obviously very good at avoiding doing the right thing, so he evaded the lawsuit very well. While it’s a bummer, I can’t allow that to control my life and have since moved on. I may never see it or know it, but I do know karma has his address, karma knows where he lives. Honestly, I’m not the first tenant he’s screwed over, and I’m likely not the last. When the time is right, with the right the situation I do believe justice will be served. It’s not my responsibility to serve that justice up.
2016 unfolded the way it did for me because the foundation I had been living on was unstable and was ready to crumble, so it did. It didn’t just crumble, it caved in and went down a black hole! I was being forced out of a situation that was no longer serving me so I could be in a position to move on to something bigger and better. I see what’s happening on a large scale big picture in the world right now in 2020 and I see the same thing happening that happened to me on a small scale personal way in 2016. This is why I tell people to hold on, push through, and have faith with what’s happening right now. I believe a lot of systems we had previously are collapsing (in our health care systems, politically, and more) because they weren’t built on a solid foundation that works. So now we’re watching them come tumbling down and have no choice but to build something new, better, and helpful for everyone. While I don’t believe the world’s problems will resolve quickly or easily, hell it’s possible things may still have to get even worse than they are now yet, I do believe it will get better and that better will be better than where we were at before. Whether it’s globally, collective as the world, or in our personal lives when we have massive setbacks like 2016 or 2020 we need to look at it like a slingshot. Just remember we are being pulled back to be launched forward.
Anyway, that is my long drawn out saga with bed bugs. I know so much more about them than is normal and I hope I never encounter one ever again. It’s a myth that bed bugs are only in places that are dirty and run down. They do not discriminate. They will show up if you’re rich, if you’re poor, if you’re a clean freak, or if you’re a pig. The thing they like more so than anything else is “clutter,” which anyone can create. It’s easy for them to hide and be cozy in clutter. Pro tip: If you keep things under your bed, don’t. Keep your things organized and don’t be a packrat. If you’re going through it right now please know you are not alone, and you will get through this. I completely understand the struggle. The key is to be very thorough with your cleaning process. The more precise you are, the less likely they will resurface. Do not be ashamed of the mental issues that come with them, because these mental problems are very real. It’s just as valid of a traumatic experience as anything else. If you’ve never been through bed bugs I hope you can at least find some inspiration through this story on going through hard times in general and have hopefully learned something new. If you have any questions on how to survive getting through bed bugs, please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help out and answer your question. Have you ever been through bed bugs? If so, I would love to hear your story! Please feel free to share in the comments. I would never wish bed bugs on my worst enemy, they are that awful and destructive. But I’m thankful for where I am today out of the situation. If Britney got through 2007, if I got through 2016, we can all get through 2020. Better days are ahead.