Having Years of Bad Renter’s Luck and Maintaining Your Sanity (or How I’m Failing Miserably at Precisely That)

I’ve been very open lately that I’m struggling in a lot of ways. I’ve always been a pretty honest and up front person and that kind of organically transferred into my online life when I first got social media a million years ago, so it’s never been a big thing to publicly share personal details of my life. My original goals in social networking were to keep long distance family and friends (almost all of the very important people in my life) up to speed, so before all of the drag and fan things happened, I was used to posting everything on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for all to see. When Drag Coven picked up and the social landscape of my profiles changed, I never really adjusted how I conduct myself online, but it still usually works out. Recently, though, this has presented a new challenge- the struggle between keeping people in your life updated so they don’t freak out and keeping some privacy while you get your shit together.

That’s why I’ve been honest online that I’m struggling, but also why I haven’t really gone into to detail about how, why, or with what. I’m sure it’s probably been annoying for casual followers who are mostly here for fun, cheerful drag related content since a lot of my posts have been heavy and emotional but super vague lately. I’m also sure, however, that it’s been concerning for the family and friends who actually care about personal aspects of my life as well, largely for the same reasons; I’ve stated that I’m struggling and I’ve made it known that my troubles are heavily related to my apartment, but I haven’t gone into much more detail than that. When I originally posted about what’s been happening, I had some people close to me treat me in an unexpectedly nasty manner, so I stopped updating all together while I dealt with it. That was a problem too, though, because people are used to me posting a lot, so then I got all these stressed out messages asking me if I was alive. That’s why posts have been present but vague. I wanted the flood of worried messages to stop, but I didn’t want to be hassled either.

This week, things kind of started looking up just a little bit. They’re not necessarily solved and I’m certainly not “all better”, but some of the weight of what’s been happening has been lifted ever so slightly. In light of that, I figured I’d let people into the loop on what’s been happening and why I haven’t been myself for quite some time now. As with most of my blog posts, this will probably be self indulgently long, so if you’re not here for length, exit now of your own volition rather than complaining to me later about how much I talk. I’m a writer for a living and you know this; no one made you click the link, darling.

Anyways, back to my living situation. Here’s some past context for why it’s been quite so difficult to handle.

I haven’t been comfortably settled in a calm, properly functioning living situation in almost three years. Between that and the constant struggle to maintain balance between getting/keeping gainful employment in an economy that essentially hates my generation for existing and also having some kind of enjoyable social life outside of the work hustle, I’ve also experienced a large shift in my mental health over those same years. Until recently, I ignored that part of things in an attempt to deal with the rest, because we live in a society that tells you to suck it up and keep on keeping on. It never occurred to me that mental health was something I’d ever have to tangibly consider or make time to deal with; I’ve always just been a stressy person who gets a little squirrelly sometimes, but after a good cry, a nap, and a snack, I can usually get over it and on with it. Well, that’s not really the case anymore.

Before I moved to Toronto, I really didn’t have anything left in Ottawa. I’d lived there for eight years, which was the longest I’d ever stayed in the same place before. I was there for university, so most of my friends were transplants from other places. When they graduated or got jobs, they moved home or elsewhere, but I stayed put because I didn’t have a home to move back to and I didn’t know where I wanted to go next. I wasn’t from the area but I wasn’t from anywhere else either, and I’d already lived so many places that I didn’t see a need to add another city to the list. Suddenly, however, I looked around and realized that all the people I knew best and liked most were gone and it was a really jarring feeling. I grew up as a military brat, so I’d always been the one leaving everyone I loved behind. Being the one getting left was unsettling. I still had a job, a boyfriend, and family two hours away, though, so I stayed in Ottawa because… well… where else was I going to go?

Then my apartment got ants. I cleaned like a maniac thinking it was my own fault because the building orignally told me that no one else had complained. I found out later from fellow tenants that an older couple on my floor were notorious for leaving old food around and bringing street furniture into their unit to clean it up and try to sell it, so it wasn’t the first time this had happened and I’d just been lucky enough to avoid the ants up until that point. The building never helped us do anything about it because they insisted I was the only one with the complaint. I finally dropped a bunch of money on sprays, traps, and any other treatment I could get my hands on after I came home from work one day, stepped onto my kitchen floor without turnin the lights on first, and felt the ground heave under my foot because there were so many hundreds of ants piled on top of each other.

They were those teeny, tiny little fuckers that either leave you alone entirely or bite your skin all over like a rash, so you can hardly tell it’s bug bites. I’d lived there for over three years without trouble and loved the place, so I was pretty upset when suddenly my cute little bachelor, all painted purple like a girly cave, wasn’t comfortable or fun to be in anymore. I thought about moving, but I was also working 16 hours a day to try and make up for a small recent period of unemployment I’d just had thanks to a lay off, so I kind of just panicked and stayed put so as to not interrupt my work schedule. That was around the time we started Drag Coven, so at least I had this fun new project to take my mind off the ants and the long work hours I was keeping up in between and on the road.

Then, literally in the space of three days, the only things I had left that were keeping me in Ottawa disintegrated. I got dumped from a rather serious two year relationship via text message (for being so passionate about my hobbies that it made him jealous that he didn’t have something similar in his own life… how dare I). I found out my parents were posted back to Europe in less than three months, so they wouldn’t be close by anymore. I also got notice at my job that, even though they’d originally wanted me for five years, the tiny company I worked for already had more work and content out of me in a year and a half than they’d ever anticipated, so they couldn’t afford to keep me. I was writing course content for an online school and I’d completed three new courses and an endless amount of blog content for them, and they told me it was being more well received than they ever expected by students. Even though my courses were generating great money, they still didn’t have the funds to keep me because they didn’t have the resources for me to write anymore than I already had because they didn’t have the time to manage everything we’d done and implement new things. Basically, there was nothing left for me to do and they were just too small a business to pay me to do nothing. At least, that’s what they told me. Maybe they just didn’t like what I’d produced and didn’t want anything more from me but didn’t want to hurt my feelings because they were lovely people. Anyways, the way I was left to understand it, I’d basically worked too fast and written myself right out of a job even though the position had originally been created for me. I had until Christmas to finish up with the company because we’d signed a contract, but they wouldn’t be bringing me back in the New Year. I loved that job and I was devastated. My parents have lived continents away before and I’ve never really defined my life by relationships or dating, so losing that job was definitely the most upsetting blow for me, but it was a heavy three days all together.

After those three things happened, I spiralled into a hole of stress migraines. I’ve always gotten horrible, debilitating migraines since I was a small child, but this was beyond anything I’d ever had. For three days, I called in sick, didn’t leave my bed, didn’t eat, and didn’t turn on any lights or open the curtains. I literally couldn’t leave my bed because I was in so much pain. At the same time, being there was annoying because even though I never saw the ants anywhere but in the kitchen, I was still waking up covered in tiny little bites, so not even my bed was safe. On the third day I finally crawled (literally) into the piping hot bath tub fully clothed, put on some really loud Gaga music despite how much sound hurt my head, screamed a little bit, and decided to move to Toronto. It was closer to Jamie for Drag Coven, which was getting us a lost more legitimate opportunities than I’d ever expected, and I simply adored everyone I’d met there. I was already spending basically every weekend in Toronto at that point anyways. I handed my apartment notice in the next day and I was out before Christmas about a month later.

The apartment I moved into in Toronto was tiny but perfect. Two friends had found it for me and sent me pictures and I was so grateful. It was right on the edge of the village, just off Church St, meaning I was ridiculously close to the drag scene and all of my awesome new friends. I’d gotten work at a knitting store (which I still work at and have adored since the day I started) and I’d also been lucky enough to score several regular, remote freelance writing contracts that could be written on my own timeline and from anywhere. I still work these as well and they still pay the bulk of my life’s expenses and let me travel the way I do. I was wary of whether I’d be able to survive primarily on freelance because it takes a lot of self discipline and I’d never done it before, but I got to Toronto feeling renewed, confident, motivated, and excited.

At first, my new apartment was fantastic. It was tiny and expensive, but I didn’t need anything more and the extra couple hundred I was paying compared to my place in Ottawa was worth it to me for the location. It was central and I had an easy time getting anywhere I needed to go, which is huge for me since moving so often throughout my life has smashed my inner compass to pieces and I get lost really easily. The best part, however, was that it didn’t have ants.

In February, one month into my move, I started smelling something weird. I have an annoyingly high sense of smell, though, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. I figured someone threw something particularly gross down the garbage chute down the hall and it would probably be cleaned out soon. After a few hours, though, the smell got worse. I started sniffing around like a dog and located the smell under my bed. The moment I started pulling out craft and costume boxes from under there, my cat got agitated and started pacing and yelling. The smell also got worse. Gagging, I finally pulled out a big box in the middle and looked down to find a dead mouse squished against the side. It was congealed to the plastic because it had already started decomposing right there on my floor. I dropped the box and immediately ran to the bathroom to vomit. I cleaned up the mess, cleared everything out of the space, and disinfected every surface and object I could get my hands on. I couldn’t understand how I had pests already; I’d literally only been there for a month and I was very clean because I’d wanted to avoid a repeat of the ants.

For the next few months, I came home every day with a little bit of dread. Some days it would all be fine. Some days I’d find a dead mouse in the middle of my floor. Others, I’d be home and see something dart across the room. One time my cat ran up to me in a frenzy with something in her mouth and, before I could move, she dropped a still-living mouse right on top of my feet.

I told the building right away. I did it the night I found the first dead mouth, and I did it in an email complete with pictures so I could start a paper trail, just in case. They immediately told me it was my fault and that I should be cleaner. I begged for an inspection and on the day the guy came, a mouse died in the wall inside one of my closets. I showed the super intendant the holes I’d seen mice run into and I opened the closet (which smelled so bad it made my stomach turn) to show him the loose wall panel in the back where I was pretty sure the smell was coming from. I begged for help getting rid of the mice because they just kept getting in and dying. I couldn’t stop leaving my apartment to work but I lived alone, so there was no one there to make sure mice didn’t come in and die and start to stink while I was gone. The man pretended he didn’t smell anything even though the smell was so bad it made my eyes water. I could tell he was faking it because he kept touching his nose and applying mint Chapstick. When I insisted that it was a problem, he started yelling at me and telling me I was a liar and that I just wanted to live there for free. He said he didn’t see any mice, so I couldn’t prove that any had ever been there. I showed him photos and, even though you could see my rug in the background, he said I’d Googled them and they weren’t mine. He agreed to drill the panel in the closet shut, but he wouldn’t open it to get the dead mouse out. He shut it in and I had to just deal with the smell until the thing finally fully decomposed in the wall and stopped stinking.

The next ten months of my life were spent repeating the cycle and arguing with the building. Even after my friend Devyn moved unexpectedly to Toronto and lived in the apartment with me for a time, and could therefore attest to my stories, they still accused me of lying. I finally put a dead mouse in a bag, marched over to the rental office, and dropped it right onto the desk of the woman who was supposed to be helping me, making her scream and cry and beg me to take it away. I refused until she agreed to do something about the mice. She threatened me with security and I just stood there quietly, waiting for her to agree. I’d tried everything by that point- emails, calls to every office and rep available, DIY strategies and traps of my own. I was in the process of filing a claim with the Landlord and Tenant board, but that takes a lot more time (and it also costs more money) than dropping a mouse on someone’s desk does.

They finally agreed to treat for the mice, but all they’d ever do was march into my apartment, throw my stuff into the middle of the room, and fill my radiators with ugly foam that shed everywhere in an attempt to trap the mice in the walls and stop them from getting in. The mice simply ate through the foam, got in anyways, and then died on my floor thanks to their foam snacks. I asked for better traps and the building told me to pay for them myself. I refused and left another mouse on their desk, so they finally brought some traps up and put them on my floor, but the mice didn’t fall for those one single time. They skipped the traps and came right in to die continually in the middle of my floor and stink the place up. Devyn would wake up in the night for a drink of water and step on a dead mouse. I’d accidentally roll over a mouse in my desk chair while I was trying to work. It was constant.

I lost work time waiting for inspection appointments that never showed up (of course, I was called a liar when I reported these to the building), arguing my case on the phone, meticulously documenting everything in emails, guarding my things when people did show up for inspection because stuff had been rooted through and damaged before. Sometimes when the super came, he’d bring random male family members with him who would just stand by the door with their arms crossed and silently glare at me. I asked one to leave once because I wasn’t comfortable with these men I didn’t know barging into my home when they didn’t even work for the building and he said no because he didn’t trust me not to hurt the super, who I later found out had falsely claimed that I’d threatened his life on a day when, in reality, he had cornered me alone in my kitchen when Devyn wasn’t home and yelled at me about what a little liar I was until I cried. He consistently called me “little girl” in an aggressive, condescending tone. The women in the office who called me to accuse my of lying almost daily would ask me questions and then immediately interrupt my answers and if I became upset or asked them to let me finish, they would scream at me and tell me that the frequency with which I called them was a form of harassment, even though they had called me. When you work freelance, every moment that you’re not working on a day off from your day job is wasted money, so I was continually just losing money to these people who would do the bare minimum and then leave me living in mouse remains, feeling badly about myself.

I clearly wanted to move, but my ability to work was being tampered with by the whole mouse fandango, so it wasn’t the greatest decision to make financially, and I’d also signed a year long lease that wasn’t up yet. At one point, the building did offer to let me out of the lease, but when I called back later to take the offer after thinking about it for a few days, they told me I was lying and that they’d never offered that. We ended up staying until my lease was up regardless because I filed for a rental rebate and they argued with me about it for so long that it used up the rest of the time in my lease anyways. I didn’t want to move before getting the rebate because I didn’t trust them to honour it if I wasn’t a tenant anymore.

In the end, I got a rebate. I only got it because I got fed up, stormed unannounced into the office one day, and finally acted like the psychopath they’d accused me of being all along. I demanded what I was legally entitled to and they laughed at me and told me they didn’t have time for me. I persisted and the woman called me “little girl” once more. I lost my mind and stood in the office screaming at them at the top of my lungs about what they’d put me through until one of them threatened to start filming me for legal purposes if I didn’t stop yelling, so I took out my camera and started filming them, myself, and the entire room, offering to send her the video when all was said and done so that we both had copies. The moment the video was turned on, they completely complied, denied it vehemently when I verbally recounted the ways in which building employees had accused me, harassed me, and made my life difficult, and suddenly treated me with the utmost respect in a way they never had before. They kept apologizing for what I’d been through and saying how upset they were knowing I was someone’s daughter, because they couldn’t imagine how they’d feel if their own daughters were caught in such a situation. Poor me, young thing that I am. I had a settlement contract in my hands within minutes. Isn’t it interesting that the moment I took action that would have documented hard proof of the way they treated me and failed to fulfill their obligations, they did everything they should have done from the beginning? Isn’t it sad that I had to get crazy and loud to get anyone to stop talking and listen or even remotely take me seriously?

The board took so long to even look at my file that I actually got the building to rebate my rent myself before anyone from above had even gotten involved. At first, the building tried to make me settle for a single month’s rebate, but I’d been dealing with the problem for 11 months by that point so I refused. The amount I was finally awarded was absolutely less than I was legally entitled to under the circumstances, but I was willing to settle to an extent if it meant getting something in return for the harassment and mice, getting out of there, and getting my home life settled again.

My spirits picked up when Devyn and I found an absolutely stunning, freshly redone, and quite large two bedroom just down the street, even closer to where he was working and where my friends perform. Getting the lease sorted and signed was a struggle because the office was being handed over to new people and they also didn’t really understand what I do for a living, but it worked out in the end. We actually didn’t get things sorted until we were quite literally six days away from homelessness, but it did work out and I was just so happy to not constantly be trapped around the smell of dead mice. We moved into the big new apartment in January and I thought everything would be fine.

We ran into problems immediately. For reasons unknown to literally anyone, our Internet just refused to work. We got service from a highly recommended company for a good price, but it cut out every 15 minutes or so and the signal was so weak that there was no hope of Wifi. I work from home on the Internet, though, so that wasn’t something I could deal with. I called to try and get it fixed but right from the get-go, I was treated absolutely horribly by their customer service reps. At first I thought I was just being sensitive after a year and a half of phone struggles with my apartments, but then Devyn got on the phone and was treated with more respect for no apparent reason, so it quickly became clear that the employees didn’t want to speak to me because I’m female. Like… I’m not even jumping to conclusions here; one of the reps literally told me he would prefer to talk to the man in the household. They insinuated that they would only deal with women if we were listed as married. We were disgusted and decided to cancel the service after running into the same issue about three times, but that was a struggle too because reps kept hanging up on me and, just like my buildings, telling me I was lying and everything should be fine. We ended up without working internet for about a month before finally getting them to cancel everything. Even after they told us they had, we found out from the new company that they really hadn’t and our lines were still tied up, so we had to fight with them further. I lost work time and therefore money repeatedly waiting for modems in the mail thanks to defective hardware, poor communication and misunderstandings on their end, and their continued random refusal to listen to me even though they were somewhat compliant with Devyn. Don’t get Internet from CanNet; they’re sexist and incompetent.

Even once we got a new company, we still experienced mystery Internet issues, and that’s gone on to this day no matter what we do. I recently had a call from a rep telling me they’ve been investigating the issue ongoing and… they have no answers. No one at the Internet provider, at Rogers who owns the lines, or in my building knows why this is an issue for us when it never has been for anyone else in the apartment before. We’ve tried other companies, other hardware… everything. I simply make do with what Internet we can get now and work offline whenever I can. I’ve literally had this page I’m writing in right now refresh twice as a I type thanks to network surges, losing me paragraphs both times. The whole thing slowed me down for months. I’m lucky to have employers who are more than happy to work at my pace, but it still affects my carefully balanced budget because the less writing I produce, the less I’m paid. Sure, I can go work in coffee shops, but have you ever tried to write productively every day of your life in a loud coffee shop, a busy library, or any other public place when you’re trying to catch up on income loss that was beyond your control just so you can afford groceries that week? It’s anxiety inducing. I was more stressed than ever.

Despite the ongoing Internet connection issues, things settled for a couple months after we swapped companies and I was incredibly grateful. At the end of April, I went away to visit family right before our big Drag Con trip. I got really sick so I went to the doctor the day I got back because I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so horrible and I was worried it wouldn’t go away before we left for LA. I found out I had a nasty combination of strep throat and tonsillitis and I was handed super harsh nausea inducing antibiotics. I walked through our new apartment door with the bad news about my body to find Devyn standing forlorn holding a bug in a bag. We had bed bugs.

A friend who lived in our building previously had warned us that they moved out a number of years ago due to a bad bed bug infestation, but we also had current friends living in the building (living right across the hall, in fact) who had never had any issues despite living there even longer. We didn’t find the building on any active bug registries and we were assured by the rental office when we viewed that their records had been cleared for years and that routine inspections were done to keep it that way. According to what’s publicly available, it was actually one of the buildings with the most bug-free record we could find in the whole downtown area, so I was devastated when we found them.

We reported the bugs immediately and a fumigation was scheduled, but I would be in LA already by then. Devyn had a bit more time to prepare his things, but I only had three days before my trip. I wasn’t allowed to go to my day job with strep and I’d been told by the doctor that bed rest was the best way to get better before Drag Con, but now I had to spend that rest time and any last minute writing time I’d hoped for packing every single thing I owned into plastic bags even though we felt like we’d only just finally unpacked from the move. I had to drag my sick body from closet to closet and either tumble dry or hot steam clean every single piece of clothing I own (I do drag and haven’t grown since I was 11, so that’s a lot of clothing), wrap all of my belongings in plastic, move all our new furniture away from the walls, and generally tear our house apart. I made it happen, but I cried in pain and frustration almost the entire time. At one point I was literally laying face down on the floor steaming things with one hand and trying not to vomit, barely able to swallow my own spit thanks to how sore my throat was. Every single piece of clothing and object I was taking to LA had to be cleaned, sterilized, and wrapped as well until I walked out for my trip because I was horribly afraid to give the bugs to anyone else.

At the time, I posted about our apartment troubles online like I would with anything else. I was literally filled with anxiety by this point because I couldn’t believe I was facing unwanted pests again. That was three out of three apartments that had some kind of infestation even though we lived cleanly out of fear from past experiences. I was upset and seeking advice from people who had had them before. I got a little bit of advice publicly, but privately I mostly got unexpectedly harsh backlash for having the bugs. Close friends uninvited me from parties and refused to stand next to me if they saw me in public. They’d go to hug me and then say “Wait, ew, fuck no”. People would make comments at shows or in bars about me being dirty and if I laughed it off like a joke, assuming that people who actually knew me in real life wouldn’t be unnecessarily cruel, I’d get glared at. I’d get texts from mutual friends later telling me people I’d been close with were talking behind my back in local drag bars, saying things like “Well what do you expect when you run around the country spending time in dirty bars instead of, like, working. Of course your home is dirty if you’re never there”. Even friends who had had the bugs themselves before and therefore knew that, if you actually do some research, bed bugs are like lice in that they target the cleanest homes, beds, and spaces, were very rude about it. I took every precaution to make sure my things were cleaned and avoid staying with friends or taking my things to people’s houses during that time, but I was still treated like I had some plague that I wanted to spread to people. A couple of times I even had friends who admitted to getting cockroaches in their own kitchens because they left old food out on the counter too often and didn’t change the garbage for too long tell me unprovoked that maybe Devyn and I should re-evaluate our cleanliness habits and the way we live our lives. It was just a totally weird social experience.

Beyond how rude people were about our cleanliness, I was also treated like I should “just fix it”. Friends would ask how the situation with the bugs was going and I’d explain that it was frustrating how long the process takes. You get a fumigation treatment and then you have to wait two weeks before you get a second and final treatment and then you’re clear. For three weeks after each treatment, you’re not allowed to clean your floors or surfaces because if you wipe away the goo, it doesn’t kill the bugs. While I was in LA, Devyn had to live for two weeks alone in chaos and filth because he couldn’t clean our house or put the furniture back in between treatments. While he dealt with things on ground level, I dealt with all kinds of emails and calls from the building while I was in LA to sort out times, make sure things were prepared properly, and so on. The process of getting all the prep done and getting our lives put back together after cost us both work time, which obviously lost us money. We also incurred costs in the form of cleaning supplies and having to board my cat. It was stressful and the reaction we got from other people was upsetting, but we survived. We did discover that I’m allergic to the chemicals they used to fumigate, so I spent days following the treatment sneezing, itching, and fighting worse migraines than usual, but at least it was over with.

After that, we finally got a few weeks of respite in the apartment area. Other stressful things happened that might have been more manageable had we not both been more poor than usual from missed work during the bed bug fiasco, but at least we finally had a settled home that actually had enough space for both of us and no tiny uninvited guests. People laid off with lecturing about my personal habits and telling me how to fix my life.

At the end of July, I started waking up with really weird swollen patches all over my body. At first, I thought maybe they were spider bites. I’ve always reacted really terribly to spiders and I’d caught one in the hallway the week before, but spiders happen in houses and I didn’t think anything of it. I became increasingly concerned, though, when it went on for two weeks without stopping. I started googling all kinds of bug bites to see what it most looked like, but it was different than any of them so I started worrying that maybe I was allergic to something environmental. Just in case, I sent pictures to our building but they told me that they’d never seen bites like that and I had nothing to worry about. They refused my request for an inspector to look at our unit.

The thought of another bed bug infestation crossed my mind, but these swollen patches looked nothing like the photos of bed bug bites I was finding and we couldn’t find bugs anywhere. I tore apart my room again searching and steamed the hell out of my mattress just in case, even tearing into my box spring, but I found nothing. Devyn looked and steamed all over his room since his bed frame was the place where we’d originally found bugs in April, but he didn’t find anything either. Besides, he was bite free. If the issue was in his room, why would I be covered in bites? I emailed the building again and asked for another inspection anyways, but they said no again. Even so, an Orkin inspector randomly knocked on our door the following week with no warning and asked me if he could look around. I let him, but we were completely cleared and he didn’t find anything. The following week, we got a notice that they were quickly spraying and dusting everyone’s outlets and doorways anyways, but that it was nothing to prepare for or worry about because it was just preventative routine.

In the meantime, I went to the doctor to get my skin looked at. I was covered in weird, massive hives that almost started to look like chicken pox as they healed. I spent the summer using Facetune to smooth out massive swollen patches on my arms in my drag photos. People at work and at shows started asking about what the hell I was covered in and I didn’t have any answers because I didn’t know. The breakouts would start like swollen red hives that itched to high heaven, but I never scratched them because it wasn’t a satisfying itch; touching them just really hurt. Then they’d start to heal but they’d turn into these deeper red patches that looked like hickies. I got teased at shows by people asking me who I’d been making out with even though I hate touching most humans and am far too busy to date. Then, they’d heal into these weird bruises with all kinds of colours and a few of them even scarred like tiny pink dots even though I never scratched.

I was uncomfortable every single day and my skin burned more often than not. I started having all these crazy anxious thoughts about my own health, assuming I was the problem since everyone kept confirming that our apartment and everything around me was normal and fine. What if that doctor five years ago who told me I might have an autoimmune disease but then never bothered helping my investigate it further had been right and this was how it was finally manifesting itself? I went to my current doctor again and she told me that I was definitely having an allergic reaction to something, but she’d never seen this before so she didn’t know what. She suggested changing all my laundry and shower products, but I’d already tried that and it didn’t help.

I was eventually put on an antibiotic skin cream that wasn’t covered by my insurance. I had to pay $70 of my own money for a goo that dried like a clear film, to be applied from my jawline to the very bottoms of my feet and slathered on every single nook and cranny of my body. This was supposed to stop whatever outside source was bothering my skin from being able to affect it quite so badly, and the doctor gave it to me because she was worried that my constant breakouts might become infected if my skin didn’t get a rest. She said that, because we didn’t know the cause, if I did get a skin infection, I would be hospitalized. She just kept telling me “You really have to fix this situation at home, it has to be solved”, as though I was just choosing to do nothing about it. As though I didn’t want to help myself and wasn’t agonizing over it every single moment of my life. She kept suggesting that maybe I go visit my parents or maybe I move, but my parents live on another continent and, at that point, I plain and simply didn’t have the money to move. All my savings and the money I would have used to pay for a moving truck and cover first and last month’s rent on a new apartment had been used for my regular living costs because I was being prevented from actually doing my jobs at every single turn, week after week, month after month. I had no idea what to do. We were in a horrible catch 22 of whether we should stay or go. No matter what we chose, there was something very difficult and rather awful that was very likely to happen with either option. We did a lot of just sitting in despaired silence, not even knowing how to talk about it because neither of us knew what the best course of action was.

Then, a couple weeks later, Devyn found another bed bug in his room. I took pictures and emailed the building immediately and they scheduled a fumigation… 18 days later. They made us live more than half the month knowing that this was probably what had been eating me alive and making my life uncomfortable and knowing that the longer they leave it, the more likely the bugs are to spread within the building. I had to bail on Drag Coven trips because I didn’t want to stay with our friends and risk giving them to someone else, plus I remembered how we’d been treated last time we had them. I missed more work time once again packing our entire home into plastic bags after sterilizing every object individually. I read through all kinds of DIY remedies and tried every single one of them. I packed all my belongings into black garbage bags and piled them on our sunny balcony so the sun could bake them and the heat would kill any bugs I didn’t get in my obsessive drying and steaming.

In the meantime, we lived with our furniture cramped into the middle of the floor, minimal clothing each, and barely any access to anything we owned. I basically stopped doing drag because I didn’t know which bags any of my things were in and I couldn’t dig all my crafting and styling stuff out unless I wanted to have to redo the cleaning and sterilizing process all over again. I went on the occasional trip if we had a hotel or if we were sleeping the car rather than at a friends, but I cancelled and missed out on a lot of stuff too. I stuck to things I’d already purchased tickets for and couldn’t skip without wasting even more money by not attending. In between, I scrambled to make up work time that I’d missed in the very time consuming process of packing all our stuff up yet again.

We got the treatment and we waited out the two weeks in between that and the second fumigation. I had bad reactions to both. We tried to keep things as clean as we could without cleaning away the treatment, but we were basically living like squatters in our own home by that point, all while paying full rent and losing money to prep, supplies, cat boarding, and other related costs that no one was reimbursing us for. My need to cram work into every spare moment got me to the point that I no longer saw a single sign of my friends when I was home in Toronto and not traveling in the small, safe, inspector-cleared windows I had. I couldn’t go to local shows or even meet friends for lunch because all I did was try to make up my work. At some point in there I also spent a solid week at home with increased migraines because our building actually caught fire and, even though we’re lucky to live high up enough that we avoided smoke damage, our whole floor and a lot of my clothes smelled strongly of smoke for weeks and smell is a headache trigger for me. My productivity slowed down again because I couldn’t even see out of both my eyes thanks to smoke migraines.

Eventually, after repeated fumigations, we were finally cleared from bed bugs once more. The very night we got clearance, however, Jamie and I walked into my kitchen and turned the lights on to see cockroaches skitter across the counter and down the sink. We’d been told not to clean our apartment’s nooks and crannies so many times in a row for so long because of the bed bugs that now we’d attracted cockroaches. We got more bugs from being forced to live in near-filth because before that we’d been too clean. I was absolutely outraged. I called the building only to find out that whoever had been dealing with our case before had been replaced with a new girl, and she was a problem from the beginning. She refused to look up our file or our email threads and made me walk her through the whole thing. Instead of listening to factual things that had already happened, she argued with me despite the fact that she hadn’t even been there for any of it.

We got fumigated for the cockroaches within a couple of weeks, but it didn’t work. We ended up controlling them ourselves with DIY methods that we looked up online. In the meantime, even though we were cleared for bed bugs, I left all of my things packed and on the balcony through most of September because I didn’t trust the place anymore. The moment I unpacked my things, I knew this new building rep would accuse us of being the problem if the bugs came back. We continued living like squatters out of caution while loose ends got tied up. That’s around the time that I went to Drag Con NYC and had my wallet stolen, leaving me in the US with no ID, bank card, or money. The prospect of having my finances and identity stopped/stolen while I was not only in another country but also in the middle of a living hell scenario at home for the third apartment in a row, parts of which actually required things that were in my stolen wallet, were all contributing factors in my first panic attack, which I had the misfortune of having in public as a drag show was emptying. To really put the cherry on top, onlookers at the show who don’t know me and have never spoken to me assumed that my panic attack- an uncontrollable, anxiety-induced physiological response to an unexpected high stress situation- was really just me having a temper tantrum about not getting to meet some famous drag queens.

While I recouped my IDs and bank cards and tried to make sure I still had everything I needed to pay for our apartment troubles back home, I was slandered repeatedly and from multiple sources (most of whom weren’t even there) all over the Internet for being entitled and making public scenes to “get what I want”. These were people who usually champion respect for mental health and pride themselves on being open about their own struggles with mental illness and considerate of others… and yet, when I had a legitimate panic attack, they downplayed it as a “fan fit” and discredited me being targeted for robbery solely because I have some type of small online following and they’re not sure they understand what we do. Where I normally wouldn’t have given two fucks, it felt like a complete kick in the face because I was already so downtrodden and anxious before we even left for NYC. I felt guilt ridden for even going on the trip when things back home were so bad, even though our apartment was cleared at that point and I would have actually lost money by not attending the con because we’d paid for it so far in advance, before shit hit the fan.

The entire situation following Drag Con in combination with the fact that I was still living out of garbage bags and not feeling settled in my own home kind of forced me into the realization that I might have to come to terms with some of my unhealthy mental habits. I’d been stressed for months, but I just hadn’t been talking about the depth of it. Now that panic attacks had started, I finally started admitting to myself that perhaps these were things I needed to take note of and actively try to fix. Devyn was a huge help here; he deals with an anxiety disorder himself, so he recognized the signs too and has patiently talked aspects of the whole issue out with me. I recently called my doctor to speak about anxiety management strategies, but actually getting the appointment is an ongoing process. They never pick up when I call so I leave a voicemail, but I’m always working so they keep calling back when I’m at work. It’s been an unfortunate couple weeks of telephone tag.

After Drag Con, though, things still weren’t sorted. I went home and immediately started breaking out in hives again. The building was absolutely adamant that we were clear, however, so I started looking at other sources once more. It just made no sense that, if we had no bugs and the bugs we did have didn’t seem to congregate in my bed, that I was the one being eaten alive. Devyn, on the other hand, had actually been exposed to the bugs in his bed frame months before and yet he had no bites. I looked into everything. I even paid high vet bills to have Dolce checked for fleas since she sleeps with me and not Devyn, but she turned out to be flea free. We treated her anyways out of paranoia even though deep down I knew she was never the issue. I wanted to cover my bases if the building was going to keep arguing with me. I considered throwing my bed away even though it’s perfectly good, not that old, and I can’t afford a new one. I literally would have been more comfortable sleeping on the floor than being covered in those bites.

Then at the beginning of October, after a three week drag marathon that I’d had to balance writing work all the way through because I was still playing catch up, I decided to try sleeping on the couch. I’d been rash free while we traveled because I wasn’t home and my stuff was clean because I’d left when we were clear and I’d sterilized it all before packing just in case. The moment I was home, though, I was breaking out again. I thought maybe sleeping on the couch would reduce my allergic reaction to what I assumed were another round of bed bug bites, and maybe the building would believe me if I proved the bed to be the issue, but it actually got worse. In the morning, while I was inspecting my arms, I literally caught a baby bed bug crawling out of my t-shirt. I put it in a bag and then flopped onto the couch to cry in frustration about it and when I sat down, a cockroach jumped out of the couch and skittered across the floor to the kitchen.

I had another anxiety attack. I cried uncontrollably all morning and was late for work. I qui traveling all together for the rest of the month and cancelled all prospective plans I had for October so I could stay home and deal with the whole mess, even though the thought of being trapped at home for that long made me physically ill. We convinced them to finally pull out the big guns and treat the apartment how it should have been months ago; with an intensive heat treatment designed to kill literally everything. We had to completely change how things were packed so that stuff could get baked the way it was supposed to be. I lost yet more work time because every time we’ve had a treatment so far, we’ve had to prepare the house differently and it’s time consuming.

When we got the heat treatment, we both returned home from work with this feeling of hope that maybe there was finally light at the end of the tunnel and our hell was over. This was like the ultimate treatment that’s proven to be effective 99% of the time. I’d had to yell and scream on the phone and send repeated emails every single day to even get the building to consider doing it because it’s expensive and they’d refused for weeks. Once again, I’d been accused of lying, overreacting, and causing the infestations myself by not cleaning my things properly and then setting old bugs free again each time I unpacked… even though I had never unpacked. I still haven’t fully unpacked as I write this. I’m literally still living out of boxes and don’t know where half my clothing is. It was a horrendous struggle to get the treatment, but we finally did.

When we got home, we found massive cracks all along the kitchen ceiling. We also found the plaster and paint of my bedroom wall buckled and cracked from top to bottom all the way across. Pieces of edging peeled off my writing desk and my bookshelf. People from the pest control company had moved all of our things around, putting stuff we’d left inside at their instruction out on the balcony but bringing things that I’d purposely left out there for fear of damage back inside to be heated when they shouldn’t have been. A very expensive and entirely unique handmade metal bodice I bought was scratched, missing edging, and had jewels and silver appliques falling off because they brought it inside after I left and heated it. They also rearranged the boxes in my room for no apparent reason, putting a heavy one on top of one that I’d marked fragile so that I found an expensive hand painted porcelain marionette my mom gave me as a gift from the Czech Republic smashed to pieces. When I sent the building pictures of the damage to our home and our things, I was told that if I wanted the cracks fixed I could fill out a maintenance request and that the rest of it wasn’t their problem.

We were still dealing with miscommunication and poor organization from the building as recently as last week. They finally started treating units around us, realizing that we’re probably neither the cause nor an isolated incident when things have been this bad. Within that process, however, they’d done things like tell us we’ll be part of another mass heat treatment so that we waste work time and lose money packing our house again, only to tell us when no one shows up that we were never included in the treated units and they never said that, despite me being able to prove it in the emails that they actually did. We finally had a trained dog inspection and a thorough investigation a few days ago and have finally been cleared of bugs once and for all, so that’s good news, but it doesn’t make me happy. I’m filled with distrust, I’m still shockingly poor from how much the last four months have run me in prep costs and lost work time, and I’m still dealing with unpacking our home and trying to manage my mental health and what is possibly anxiety on my own.

We’re not even finished with the entire process yet. I’ve once again demanded the rental rebates we’re legally entitled to, but I won’t hear back about whether the building is willing to cooperate with us without getting fully legal about it until next week. The only way I got them to even consider rebating us, which I was originally laughed at for, was to threaten not only filing a claim with the rental board, but also embarking on a harshly honest and detailed campaign against the rental company on social media and in mainstream media. Once again, I shouldn’t have to get crazy just to get the bare minimums of what the company is legally required to do according to their lease with me but, alas, here we are. If that’s what it takes for me to be reimbursed for the money this has cost me, that’s what I’ll do. We’ve been paying full rent for four months for the pleasure of living in a place that’s hardly fit to even be a human dwelling, no matter how big and lovely it looks on the surface. As if that’s not enough, all throughout the ordeal, we’ve been lied to, misinformed, forgotten about, left waiting, and so on. Last week on the phone, this woman accused me of dropping F-bombs on her when I used the phrase “please stop interrupting me”. That sentence doesn’t even have the letter F in it. She later admitted she was just mad at me for pointing out that her own communication failures had caused a mix up in treatment dates and that she hadn’t actually heard me swear at her… because I hadn’t.

At the same time, I’ve had to balance being incredibly lonely thanks to not traveling and spending every waking moment of my life at home trying to make up work, with constantly being hassled by outside sources about where I am or what I’m doing. People who actually care but aren’t here want to know if I’m okay and aren’t satisfied by the vague details I provide in an attempt to save myself being treated like filth again. People who don’t know me as well but have noticed my absence in clubs and the drag scene have openly accused me of skipping their shows on purpose out of a lack of interest in my local scene, or choosing to prioritize other city’s shows and my “fancy”, well known friends over my friends who haven’t been on TV, as though I only do drag to kiss celebrity ass. People who have talked badly about me call me up to tattle on other people who have also talked badly about me, as though they’re not really an active part of the assumptions and misinformation that have gone around behind my back for the last few months. I’m discussed as though I’m a problem for not coming around and for being a “bad friend” by people who have poisoned the scene for me with their malicious talk and who never checked in on me like a real friend would. That’s all gone on while I’ve been at home trying to regulate my breathing, make enough money to pay rent, and battle a company that doesn’t care if I’m hospitalized as a direct results of their apartment conditions or not, probably while I have a migraine.

And before anyone says it, because some over enthusiastic free advice pusher inevitably will- sure, I could get a better paying job. Or could I? I know people much more qualified and experienced than myself who are still working retail because no one wants us overeducated millennials for anything. And even if I did, that’s the end of a lot of stuff for me, and the thought of giving up the things I love, which are currently the only things keeping me somewhere even remotely close to happy, doesn’t exactly benefit my mental health overly much. A regular schedule means my role in Drag Coven is dead, which is a shame when we’ve invested so much time and money in what we do, and when it actually has the potential to be legitimized if we only had the time. Besides, when in the midst of everything that’s happened in the past four months am I supposed to have gone to an interview and been in the proper state of mind to do well or make it count? It’s frustrating to know that I once had the balance to make a more-than-comfortable living with my current work combination and that that is now, thanks to circumstances beyond my control, effectively ruined for the moment unless I keep busting my ass at every moment to get back on track. Of course, I’m more than willing to do that, and that’s where I’ve been, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, particularly when I’m filled with a constant secret dread that this isn’t really over and shit with my apartment is going to hit the fan again any moment, even though we’re cleared “beyond a shadow of a doubt”.

So… that’s why I haven’t been doing well. That’s why you haven’t seen me on Drag Coven. That’s why I haven’t been at your shows. That’s what’s been going on with my apartment and why I’ve been struggling with my health and finances. I’m in what is fast becoming my third year of complete unsettled living and it has just gotten really fucking hard to handle. It’s not even solved yet; the building might answer me next week and tell me to fuck myself over the rebate. What then? Because of this situation directly, I barely have the money for the filing fees with the rental board, let alone for lawyer fees to take it any further than that.

So I’m just sitting here waiting to see how it all goes because, at this point, I’ve tried every solution available except moving, and my resources and energy are exhausted. I’m just sitting here trying desperately to write about crafts just to make a bit of money. Feeling stressed about whether I’m finally safe to unpack my things and stop living out of literal trash bags. Trying not to be a totally garbage friend to the people who have actually been really supportive of me during this time but also wondering which of my other friends hate me for “being unsupportive” this week.

…Fingers crossed, I guess.

One thought on “Having Years of Bad Renter’s Luck and Maintaining Your Sanity (or How I’m Failing Miserably at Precisely That)

  1. Becky says:

    OMG HONEY IM SO SORRY YOU’RE GOING THROUGH THIS!!! What heartache! I will be praying for youuuu. There are so many folks that follow Drag that are lost, and jealouse that you’re noticed and they are not…just ignore them. I know easier said than done…I pray for peace for you love!

    Becky in California

    Like

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