I've Survived A Bed Bug Infestation. Here's What You Actually Need To Know

"To the legs of my bed, I taped double-sided sticky tape — only for them to crawl up the walls and drop from the ceiling onto my duvet."
picture alliance via Getty Images

Few things in life make me want to rip my skin off — bed bugs, however, could incite me to peel myself like a tangerine.

Lately, my skin has been itching. With so many stories about bed bugs in Paris, the idea of an overrun London has rendered me tacky-tongued and breaking out into cold sweats. Not to mention googling with ferocity how to ward off the invasion of tiny bloodsuckers.

I’ve become obsessed. Smelling phatom smells and peeling back corners of carpets just to “make sure” that it’s all good. That we’re safe. Why? Because I’ve lived through this before.

Living alone is supposed to be fun — empowering, even. Here I was, 24 and doing it all by myself. Except I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was.

Dormant inside the cavity walls, thousands of bed bugs lay in wait. The cold winter and the vacant flat had meant they’d retreated into hibernation, only to ambush when the heating — and the smell of breakfast, lunch and tea (i.e. me) sat her sorry self down on the carpet.

I didn’t notice anything for the first week. My furniture was organised, clothes put away and for a brief moment in time, I was at peace. Reaching this milestone was a huge accomplishment. As a working-class girl from North Wales, I never thought I’d be in a position to afford living alone.

My run of good fortune had finally ended, though. And, a week later I was struck with glandular fever. Lying in bed, unable to move my skin began to itch as small welts appeared up and down my legs and arms.

Black dots appeared around plug sockets and in the corners of my room. Mould, I thought. Then, to my horror, a small reddish thing scuttled across the carpet.

My heart dropped and my stomach hit the floor. I googled “bed bugs” and I sank further into my bed. My flat was infested and I was bedbound.

The realisation that night by night I would be the subject of torture by many tiny mouths made me sob uncontrollably as I watched black dots, their faecal matter, leave traces along my furniture, my bedding and my walls.

My legs slowly became red raw from scratching, but mentally the load was more painful.

Shame crept into my thoughts and set there like a millstone around my neck. What would people think of me if I told them? Would my landlord blame me? How could I ever escape from this fresh hell?

A week passed, slowly. I was feeling somewhat better, though still incredibly unwell. I was able to shower and get dressed, which meant tending to the scabs across my scarred body. I ordered packages upon packages of bed bug spray, traps and natural remedies like tea tree and lavender oils.

On the phone, I begged and pleaded with my landlord to find me alternative accommodation while the infestation was seen to. But, as a young woman, they intimidated me. Threatening me with eviction and fines until I could prove I hadn’t brought them in with my own furniture.

After making threats of my own to bring on legal proceedings, they soon moved me to a budget hotel where I could finally sleep in peace. In the meantime, exterminators lay more boobie traps throughout the flat.

When my stay came to an end, I was advised to take on the role of “bait” in order to weasel the critters out of the walls and into the traps. Reluctantly, I returned.

With nobody able to visit me, I became more and more isolated. My mental health deteriorated as I began to feel too nauseous to eat and too anxious to go to bed. I was signed off from work on extended sick leave long after my glandular fever passed. My money drained and I sank further and further into my overdraft. With only statutory sick pay to support me, I became more and more depressed at the situation I had found myself in.

I didn’t sleep for weeks. To the legs of my bed, I taped double-sided sticky tape — only for them to crawl up the walls and drop from the ceiling onto my duvet. I taped up plug sockets and watched them pile onto one another, as they got more and more stuck. Beneath the cills, the sellotape caught almost transparent juveniles. It was becoming a peepshow of horror. And I was still getting bitten.

It didn’t matter how many times I cried on the phone, literally begging my estate agents to release me from my contract. The answer was always no. Until I sent them photos of infected sores on my legs and threatened legal action against them.

After four months, I was free. What followed, though, was just as difficult as the infestation itself. My furniture, bedding and my most beloved belongings, my books, were incinerated. What I was able to salvage, filled me with dread. What if they were still there? What if I brought them with me?

For months afterwards, I would crawl the carpet picking apart every fibre in search of signs they’d hitched a ride. Every speck of dust was obsessively inspected and cleaned. Over time, my scars began to fade and I was able to find some semblance of normal.

A month passed in my new flat, and not one new bite. The relief washed over me and my health improved. I slept better. I was able to leave a sock on the floor. My bed no longer had double-sided sticky tape wrapped around its legs. I was free.

Even now, when I visit anywhere, the legacy of that trauma surfaces. I check the walls and peek behind wallpaper in hotels. So far, so good. Until recently.

The threat of bedbugs coming back into my life has meant old habits have resurfaced. I think about them constantly and check every inch of my house for signs of vampiric life. If they make their way to my home, I’ll be left with no option but to burn the place to the ground.