Just catching up on my LRB issues and read Jenny Diski’s moving account of her history of being infested by bugs that only she could see:
During my late teens, I discovered another kind of animal in my life in addition to all the cuddly toys, the domestic animals in books and cartoons, and various real animals of my childhood. These didn’t fit into any category of creature I’d previously known. They were, for sure, ‘insects’, but though I hazarded the odd guess, I couldn’t say precisely which insects they were. I knew them by another description: parasites. Funguses can be parasites, but what immediately comes to mind, when I think of parasites, are insects and crawling. The two go together. The other thing I knew about them was that they were my parasites. They lived on and possibly in me. I hosted them. Unwillingly. There was, apart from their very insistence on inhabiting me, no communication between us.
From then on for two years or more, in hospital and out, I was convinced that I was infested. ‘Infested’ was the word, I thought, as well as ‘contaminated’. The pubic lice multiplied to a plethora and became imaginatively licensed to inhabit my entire body. They crawled on my arms, my torso, my legs, my hair, sometimes my face and neck. They had become all-rounder lice. Not even lice, if someone had pointed out the impossible ethology I had invented for them. They were … I didn’t know what they were, but they were. Insects, lice-like, flea-like, tic-like crawling creatures that lived on me, and indeed, in me. I thought they burrowed under my skin and emerged to wander about on the surface in the dark of night or under cover of my clothes. I felt them, tickling me in specific parts, and the redness I saw when I finished scratching my skin convinced me that they were there (so easy now to write that rational sentence). I saw them, always out of the corner of my eye. I became most distressed at night. I would feel their presence and then turn on the light quickly to catch them, but of course they had burrowed back into my skin by the time I could focus.
With all the talk recently of the resurgence of bedbugs this had some resonance for me because I’ve done the same thing (turned the light on at night etc.) I DO have bites (honest) but of course they could be (are?) spider bites and I’ve found no evidence of bedbugs.
Read the whole thing. You’ll be scratching at your self all over before the end.
It reminds me of the caustically funny beginning of Philip K. Dick’s novel A Scanner Darkly, based on his experiences in the early 1970s, published in 1977. Here’s a couple of screenshots (I couldn’t get the text):
Again, read the whole thing (hell, just read all PKD)!!