Bed bugs and OCD
March 13, 2014 5:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm just back from staying over at a friend's place. I found a bed bug. My friend suffers from OCD, and they've brought up their fears about bed bugs previously. How do I break it to them without causing a flat spin?
posted by A Friend of Dug [sock] to Human Relations (18 answers total)
First question, are you positive, without any doubt, that it came from your friends house? Because, if not, I wouldn't mention it. If your friend does have an infestation, they will discover it soon enough...if they don't, you've triggered his OCD for no reason.
posted by HuronBob at 5:41 AM on March 13, 2014 [18 favorites]

Are you positive, without any doubt, that it's really a bed bug?
posted by bunderful at 5:54 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would absolutely not say a word. There's a not insignificant chance that it's not a bedbug and did not come from your friend's house.
posted by something something at 6:45 AM on March 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have OCD and a fear of bedbugs (just last night I had another infestation dream!), though I am not your friend. If you had visual proof that the bug was definitely a bedbug, like a super-clear photograph or the actual dead bug in a baggie, and you had good reason to believe the bugs may have traveled to or from my house, e.g. you found the bug in a backpack you took to my place, then I would want to know. It would freak my shit out, but I would want to know.

If you aren't absolutely certain, better not to tell. This involves not just your friend's mental health, but potentially their money and possessions. I'd hate to have thrown away half my clothes and spent hundreds of dollars on exterminators for what turned out to be a beetle on your windowsill.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:17 AM on March 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yeah. I have an OCD-lite approach to a few phobia/trigger topics, and if I were the friend, here's what I would want to hear:

- the facts

- an action plan, if they don't already have one (e.g. "I heard that this exterminator is good, their number is ###-####. Your renter's insurance will cover x, y, z. The landlord is obligated to cover ____, so call and let them know that ___.")

- a casual attitude that suggests "This is not a huge deal and everyone will come out fine on the other side."

The more you can bring it up as a NOT A BIG DEAL topic, the better. If the bedbug fear has taken on a life of its own in your friends' OCD-land, it probably looms large as a dreadful, horrible, nightmare of a thing. You can help a lot by framing it as not that way: it's just a pesky thing that crops up sometimes, and it'll be a pain in the ass to deal with but ultimately it'll be fine.
posted by magdalemon at 7:57 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

^ Although, yes, definitely do be 100% sure that it is a bedbug and it did come from their place. That hand-holding advice will only really work, too, depending on how close this friendship is and how paralyzed with fear they are (if at all).
posted by magdalemon at 7:59 AM on March 13, 2014

I would not say anything.

One bed bug means nothing.

How can you even be sure that you picked it up at their house?

Can you even be sure that it is a bed bug?

I would have to be specifically inside their house at the time I noticed the bed bug, which I would probably want to see like on their furniture or something, before I said anything about this to my friend.
posted by Sara C. at 9:03 AM on March 13, 2014

I'm going to have to disagree with everyone else and say that if there was even the REMOTEST chance someone found a bed bug that came from my place, I'd absolutely want to hear about it and would wonder what the fuck was wrong with them if they didn't tell me.

(But make sure it's a bed bug first, of course. And have a specific step-by-step plan of action ready, including numbers to call, in case you need it. And maybe check to make sure it isn't your place that's screwed.)
posted by dekathelon at 9:25 AM on March 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

The sooner you let them know if it is a bedbug it is much much easier to exterminate.

And also there are a million rumors about bedbugs. Use a reputable website for instructions. I generally recommend the Midwest pest control project.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:56 AM on March 13, 2014

Serious question: Does anyone ever find ONE bedbug?

Did you find it in your friend's house or did you bring it home and find it there? If you did find it at home, what are the chances that there is ONE bedbug in your friend's house that you brought all the way home and found and yet your friend doesn't know they're there?

Be sure is all I'm saying.
posted by cnc at 10:31 AM on March 13, 2014

One more thing I forgot to mention in my earlier comment: thoroughly search your home for any other signs of bedbugs, and keep an eye out for at least the next few weeks. You should already be doing this anyway, because you don't want bedbugs, but it would also be the decent thing to find out if your friend really is at risk. If you do have bedbugs, tell your friend, whether or not you think they've been exposed. Especially if you see each other in person regularly. I'd be incredibly upset if a friend with a known bedbug infestation stayed over at my house or invited me over to theirs without mentioning the bugs.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:53 AM on March 13, 2014

I wonder if the OP isn't asking about the possibility that s/he might have left bedbugs behind at the friend's house.

I think you're obligated as a good friend to say that you found one and don't know where it came from or when it appeared in your apartment.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:12 AM on March 13, 2014

If you found the bug at their house, it would be utterly irresponsible not to tell your friend, OCD or not. Seriously. dekathelon is right about this. (However, your question's not actually clear on where you found it.)

Do you have a picture of the bug so we could help confirm whether it was or was not a bedbug?

Serious question: Does anyone ever find ONE bedbug?

Yes. My cousin who lives next door to me did, a few years back. It was 100% certainly a bedbug, it was crawling across his bed, and no infestation came of it. It's quite possible to pick up a single stray bug along the way.

Given that, OP: if you found the bug at your friend's home, you should first offer to help check mattresses for bedbugs. If the mattresses are clean, for extra peace of mind you could suggest they get a bedbug detector, or DIY.

There's no reason to go to full-on extermination without confirming that there is an infestation. But you do need to talk to your friend. If your friend has a therapist, tell them to make an appointment to talk about this issue specifically. The OCD is a consideration, but it's one that should be handled by a mental health expert.
posted by torticat at 11:27 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Serious question: Does anyone ever find ONE bedbug?

Yes. We saw one when we moved into a new apartment (was empty for 3 weeks previous to us), flushed it, and thought nothing of it. Then we got bit worse and worse. The landlord called the pest control, and the pest control thought it was unusual. There were no signs of bedbugs, either the bugs themselves or droppings. They gave us traps, and after a week, inspected them under the microscope and said they definitely found bed bugs. It looked like dust to us. We did several chemical treatments. We continued to get bit.

We moved. The bed bugs moved with us. We knew from bites, but we still saw no sign. No visible bugs. No droppings. No smeared blood on the sheets. We got treated more and eventually went the old fashioned way (yeast traps + plastic + CO2 poisoning) and got rid of them. I know because we have gone many months without bites.

So if you are 100% sure you found a bed bug and you're 100% sure that it came from your friend's house, it is absolutely a big deal. But I don't know how the OCD-ness factors into this.

It took about 1 year from start to finish to deal with the bed bugs. We did not throw away anything or burn anything. All clothing got washed and dried (i.e., heat treated). We bombed the mattress with CO2, by sealing it in plastic, and then releasing a couple pounds of dry ice in there.
posted by ethidda at 12:19 PM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't say anything. When one has an anxiety or obsessive disorder, fear of possibly having bedbugs can be worse and more destructive than actually having them. While I would not necessarily recommend this m. o. to the general populace, for folks prone to obsession and paranoia to the extent that it can derail their life in a big way I think it's best to cultivate an attitude of not worrying about having them in their house unless & until they feel itchy or see bloodstains on their sheets. (My life was seriously derailed by such fears for quite a while and I don't think I ever actually had bedbugs - long story involving a chain of subletted bedrooms.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:46 PM on March 13, 2014

Okay, so I'd say I'm 95% sure it was a bed bug: I woke with this thing on my shoulder blade, I got up to look at it, and it was a small, intensely flat, dark red-brown scuttling bug. Imagine an ambulatory rye seed. I should have kept it, but I was sleepy, had nowhere to put it, and I didn't want my friend to find it. I'm also 95% sure I didn't bring it, unless it was hiding in my hair when I came in. So, is 90% sure enough? My friend has also complained about masked hunter bugs in their house during the summer, which I now understand to be a fairly strong indicator of bed bugs, since hunters are bed bug predators.

I've never had someone identify a bed bug to me, but this thing was true bug shaped, wingless, very red, and had the same flatness as fleas and other parasites I've seen. I know they're pretty harmless (apart from the psychological itching and potential stigma). I also know that we're colonized by billions of parasitic bacteria that we can't see. I have to admit a sneaking respect for the bed bug; I've lived in some ropey places in past years, but I've never seen a bed bug. So I'm 60/40 squick/respect for these subtle little beasties.

The reason I'm bringing up the OCD is that I'm by nature a blurter and otherwise massively un-careful communicator. My friend, on the other hand, can dissect and worry over a single word said to them for weeks. I'm just self-aware enough to know that this is going to be a problem for me to think through the words I might need to say. This may entirely ruin our friendship, and it may cause them to create a huge and needless kill it with fire bonfire of all of their things.

Coming up with a plan, and helping them to cope if they find any bugs, is good. For now. I'm saying nothing.
posted by A Friend of Dug [sock] at 6:56 PM on March 13, 2014

I didn't realize from your post that you found the bug in question at your friend's house. I thought you found one bug at your own house. That kind of changes things, though I'm not sure what the right answer is then.

One tricky thing is that some people (estimated between 20-50%) don't react to the bites. If your friend has been complaining about masked hunter bugs since the summer, it seems possible they're one of those people. That's what terrified me so much, personally, and stoked my anxiety - knowing that I could have bed bugs for a while and not know.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:56 PM on March 13, 2014

I have OCD, and an intense fear of bedbugs. Not sure how your friend's OCD manifests, but my OCD is based around a fear of being dirty and of making other people dirty. So if this doesn't match up, this response might not apply.

If you do decide to tell your friend (and I note that I would want to be told, so I could deal with a small problem rather than a major infestation): I would want tons of comforting about how its not a big deal, and that many, many people get them. A list of people I know that had them would make me feel better. Stories about how other people had them and got rid of them quickly would make me feel better. And hearing that its not my fault and I don't have bed bugs because I am dirty would make me feel better. I would like to hear that you aren't grossed out (if that is true) and that, basically ITS NO BIG DEAL.

I might actually get more freaked out if you showed up with a list of exterminators or something and a plan for what to do, because I would think "oh my God this is such a big deal that my friend did research OH MY GOD WHAT AM I GOING TO DO THIS IS A CATASTROPHE I HAVE TO DECONTAMINATE MY APARTMENT RIGHT NOW." ....but maybe that's just me.

Hope that helps.
posted by Shebear at 2:16 AM on March 14, 2014

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