GIRLS: Hannah’s OCD #4. Help I’d Give Hannah Since I’m Not Dr. Rice

Dr. Rice didn’t get Hannah at all. Season 2, It’s Back, leaves Hannah obsessively counting in 8’s. She needs a different kind of help. If Hannah was in therapy with me, I’d listen closely to her conflicting and ever-shifting feelings; her “I need your help. No, I’m fine.” “I’m sad. No, I’m not.” This is the torment behind OCD. When something feels one way, doubt sets in; or the feeling is flatly denied.

Hannah doesn’t like to need anything, especially when she does:

At lunch with her parents, before they insist she see Dr. Rice (Bob Balaban), Hannah (Lena Dunham) taps her arm in series of 8’s. Here’s the dialog. Mom: “If your head is filling up and you’re getting count-y, we can help you.” Hannah: “Well how would you help me if it was going on, theoretically? But, it’s not – so I don’t need help. I don’t have OCD.”

Hannah would have the same argument with me. I’d say to her: “You must hate the idea of needing help. Needing help seems to make you feel terrible about yourself.” I’d open up a discussion that could lead us to her shame and self-hate for not being “in control”, for not being able to do everything on her own.

Without help, all Hannah has at her disposal is counting 8’s or looking in the mirror and repeating her mantra: “you are fine and good. You are good and fine.”

Hannah’s feelings are not “fine and good” – to her.

As Hannah’s therapist, I’d focus on the feelings she’s trying desperately to control. So far, no one else has.

In Hannah’s family, typical of those with OCD, rationality is valued over feeling. Feelings (hers and theirs) are avoided. There’s no place for Hannah’s.

Her Mom

When Hannah calls panicked in the Q-tip episode (“I did something really bad”), her mom calls out in an irritated voice:  “Nothing smaller than an elbow down there.” Empathy for whatever led her to the Q-tip would be more helpful.

Her Dad

While they’re waiting for Dr. Rice, with Hannah in an agitated state, he cheerfully says:  “We’ll go down to Serendipity’s for an ice cream after.”  As if this will make her feelings go away.

Then, there’s Dr. Rice:

Dr. Rice

Hannah gives Dr. Rice two hints about what’s troubling her, but he also completely misses the boat.

Clue 1: Hannah tells him she forced herself, in High School, to see sexual and murderous thoughts in loops of 8. All he says is: “so it was really a classical presentation,” ignoring her anger and sexual anxieties. She tries again: “OK, so I guess it’s classic to have to masturbate 8 – 16 times a night until your legs shake and you’re crying and you try to make sure your parent’s don’t hear you.”

What he doesn’t see are the various ways she tries to make difficult feelings of need and sadness disappear. No one’s supposed to know they exist.

I would say to her: “You’re angry and sad, and very hungry for something. But, you have to hide those feelings from everyone, even yourself.”

Clue 2:  Hannah has tears in her eyes when she tells Dr. Rice:  “I went through a break-up recently.” But, he bypasses anything to do with feelings – just as she tries to do.

If Hannah were sitting in my office with tears in her eyes, I would say what might seem obvious to any sensitive person: “You seem sad right now.  The break-up must be very hard for you.”  She needs help understanding all the complex feelings involved.

Hannah hates feeling sad and confused about her break up with Adam.

OCD returns full force after Hannah hangs up before answering Adam’s (Adam Driver) call in It’s Back. Her feelings are stirred up. She doesn’t know what to do with them. She doesn’t even want to know what they are. She begins counting in 8’s.

In Season 1, Episode 10, She Did, Hannah tells Adam: “I’m scared. I’m scared of everything. I’m the most scared person of anyone.” This is after Adam offers to move in with her, but she invites Elijah and his boyfriend to take the room instead. Adam’s very hurt by her rejection. They fight. A truck hits him and he’s carted off in an ambulance yelling insults at her.  He has a broken leg.

Hannah’s self-hate is triggered by Adam’s insults. She has a lot of self-hate. She’s admitted to Marnie (Allison Williams) that anything hurtful Marnie (or anyone) can say she’s already said worse to herself. Self-hate is common in people with OCD. With such a cruel and self-critical voice inside her head, Hannah’s scared of loving Adam. She can’t believe he really loves her back.

Hannah’s scared of all her feelings.

She’s scared of love, but she’s especially scared of her anger. Remember – she told Dr. Rice she saw murderous thoughts in loops of 8.  Her fantasy about her anger is as extreme as murder. She believes her anger could kill. She feels responsible for Adam’s accident.  She’s consumed with guilt. Her fears cause great conflict.

What’s running in rapid cycles through her mind is: “I think he’s the greatest person. No he’s the worst. I love him. I don’t.” As soon as she has one feeling she’s terrified of the consequences – and has to talk herself out of it. Something bad will certainly happen. If she loves Adam he’ll leave. If she’s angry, he’ll die.

Hannah can’t be alone with her feelings.

I’d help her talk. We’d sort out together the complex fantasies that make her hate, hide, fear, and reject her feelings. Fantasies like being responsible for Adam’s accident. One thing is a sure bet: Hannah believes her feelings are too much (even damaging) for anyone. They’re certainly too much for her.

Those with serious OCD use “shoulds” and “should nots” to control feelings they don’t know what to do with. The result is: “I’m angry, I’m not. I’m sad, I’m not. I need you … No. I don’t really need you at all.” Without therapeutic help that focuses on her feelings and her fears of them, Hannah is left to fight them off – counting 8’s and multiples of 8, over and over again.

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