What’s In A Q-Tip?

Hannah needs help. But Dr. Rice’s failure leaves her alone to manage feelings that are confusing, hated, and at odds with what she believes is normal. She doesn’t have any methods but counting 8’s to get troubling thoughts out of her head. And, then in Season 2, Episode 9, On All Fours, there’s the Q-tip …So, in this post, I’ll discuss Girls OCD #3, What’s in A Q-Tip?

At the beginning of On All Fours, Hannah (Lena Dunham) is in an elevator on her way to meet her publisher. She’s pulling and prodding at herself – poking her ear in series of 8’s. Her counting goes full force. She’s obviously anxious. She must be frightened of what she’ll hear.

Hearing Criticisms Too Loudly In Her Head

David Pressler-Going’s (John Cameron Mitchell) greeting confirms any kind of self-criticisms she has: “I didn’t finish reading these pages because I don’t know who wrote them. Where’s the sexual failure? … If you’re not getting fucked right now, make it up.”

Not only does he play into Hannah’s self-doubts – something Dr. Rice did as well – he hits upon her loneliness and the recent loss of Adam. Feelings she’s trying not to feel. And, this is the problem in Girls OCD#3, What’s In A Q-Tip?

Later, she sits on the floor at home, in her underwear, eating olives and trying to write. The writing isn’t flowing smoothly after Pressler-Going’s dissatisfaction. Undoubtedly, she can’t get her own disparaging voice out of her head. She’s antsy. Scooches on the floor to get a pillow and – Ouch!  She has a splinter in her bottom.

In the bathroom with tweezers, it’s not the splinter Hannah’s preoccupied with. It’s getting the attacking thoughts out of her head. That Q-tip looks pretty appealing. Maybe it will do the trick.

Gettting Attacking Voices Out Of Her Head?

Poking her ear in multiples of 8, it seems to work for a moment. Especially as Hannah begins to erotically enjoy the feeling. She’s now produced a much more pleasant sensation to distract her from those very unpleasant thoughts. Then, she screams.

The next thing we hear is the phone ringing in her parent’s house: “I did something really bad.  I stuck a Q-tip way down into my ear.” She can’t get it out. Her mother, in the background, is irritated and impatient. Her dad, the one who tries to be sensitive, is helpless.

Needing Help But Not Wanting Or Trusting It

A panicked Hannah tells them she’s going to the hospital. Her mom’s voice takes over: “Who’s going with you, baby?” Being babied doesn’t sit well with Hannah. Needing anyone or anything makes her feel like a baby. To Hannah, needing help is weak and humiliating when she wants to be strong.

She goes to the ER alone. She’s still looking for (and dare I say, needing) someone to understand. This is not what she finds in the ER doctor.  Believe it or not, he’s as insensitive as Dr. Rice and just as impatient as her mother: “What were you digging for, gold?”

Hannah’s so desperate she keeps trying: “I’ve been having a little trouble with my mental state these days.” All she gets back is a demeaning and sarcastic: “You’re kidding.” More cruel and unhelpful doctor’s in Girls OCD #3, What’s In A Q-Tip.

In spite of this, she keeps talking: “I have a lot of anxiety and I didn’t think stress was affecting me and, uh … it actually is … I’m not saying this was an accident. I was trying to clean myself out.”

Cleaning Out, OCD & Trying To Help Herself

Cleaning out is the key to OCD rituals. Getting rid of disturbing thoughts and feelings in the absence of help. Without sensitivity or understanding (or a referral) from the ER doctor, Hannah again resorts to her own methods: “Do you think you could clean the other one out?  It’s feeling a little uneven.”

Eight, after all, is an even number. Hannah’s conflicting feelings (she’s a good writer – she’s not; it’s stupid to need someone – it’s OK to want help) make her feel unbalanced and off-kilter. She has to keep things in neat order, methodically counting in 8’s or lining up potato chips. Her thoughts and feelings spin chaotically in her mind. She tries to give herself control.

On her way home, Hannah runs into Adam. Hungry for attention, she tells him about the Q-tip. “Jesus fucking Christ, kid. Be careful.”  She likes that he called her kid: “Nice to hear you say that. It’s a weird feeling.” Someone’s concern sometimes makes her prickle. She wants and doesn’t want someone to care.

At home, sitting on the edge of her bathtub, Hannah looks forlorn. “I need you, I don’t need you” races through her mind.  It’s what she does with her parents. It’s a big part of her torment.  She quickly shakes her head evenly, 8 times on each side. And, then she reaches for a Q-tip. The other ear needs it, too …

Of course, a Q-tip is not a solution. Yet, Hannah has no other. That’s what we see in Girls OCD #3 What’s in a Q-tip? Stay tuned for my next post: how I’d help Hannah since I’m not Dr. Rice.

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Dr. Sandra E. Cohen

I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. I work with creatives in therapy, story/character development, and entertainment consulting. If you are a writer, actor, or director and want help with a character – or a chance to do some of your own personal work - call at 310.273.4827 or email me at to schedule a confidential discussion to explore working together.