GIRLS: OCD # 1. Hannah’s Counting: Why The Number 8?

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This is the first in a series of 4 Posts.

The word OCD is tossed around too casually in our contemporary culture – as in “I’m so OCD” to mean “I’m a perfectionist” or “I like to have things organized and controlled.” Sure, those things can be true of people who actually have OCD. But, real OCD isn’t so benign.

OCD involves torturous compulsions that can’t be controlled. In Girl’s Episodes 8 “It’s Back” and 9 “On All Fours” (otherwise known as the Q-Tip episode), we see Hannah’s (Lena Dunham) compulsion to do things in 8’s or multiples of 8’s. Counting is common in OCD. But, the unconscious choice of a particular number can say volumes if properly understood.

Counting fills a person’s mind to block out something else. Something that is creating so much anxiety it can’t be thought about. Psychotherapy is like detective work. If I had Hannah in my office, I’d want to understand what’s making her so anxious. As far as the counting goes, the first thing I’d try to do is to look for what makes it start.

We have a couple of clues in It’s Back (and I don’t think the major thing is the stress of her book deadline). The first clue is when Adam (Adam Driver) calls and Hannah hangs up on him before she answers, as soon as she sees his name on her screen. She seems troubled, looking over her shoulder as if something’s following her. The counting starts. The feelings she’s been trying to keep away have caught up.

The second clue is when she walks out on Judy Collins at the Café Carlyle lounge. She has to get away from the lyrics in Collins’ song, “Someday Soon”: “Sometimes I remember the old days when the world was filled with sorrow … you might have thought I was living, but I was all alone.” Hannah face looks haunted, sad and very alone.

As the song continues:  “Someday soon, I’m going with him …” Hannah gets up like a robot and leaves, bumping into a man accidentally. She must, then, repeat the bump 8 times. A robot is what Hannah wants to be – without feelings.

I have to assume that Hannah’s filled with sorrow and loneliness or otherwise the song wouldn’t disturb her so much. Sad about Adam, yes – but, does she want to go with him? She doesn’t know. Yet, her struggles didn’t begin with Adam. They go way back. It’s likely that Hannah has been filled with these feelings since “the old days.” Feelings she has never known what to do with; feelings that are much too much for her.

Yet, there is no one that really understands her or gives her any real help at all.  This is a major factor in her loneliness. But even more importantly, it puts her in the difficult position of having no other choice but to try to control her feelings with her counting.

Why 8 times, though? Nothing is chosen randomly by the unconscious mind. If I had Hannah in my office, I’d want to understand the meaning of 8. Here’s our next clue:

After Hannah hangs up on Adam and we witness her counting 8 for the first time, she ducks quickly into a store. Entering her apartment after banging the door 8 times, open and closed, she counts out 8 potato chips from the bag she just bought. She lines them up neatly on a table, one after the other, and then quickly scoops them up and jams them all into her mouth. Chewing, of course, exactly 8 times.

Hannah’s hungry.  If she were my patient – I’d begin to think: 8 must mean ate.  She’s emotionally starved. But, Hannah’s also quite doubtful and confused about what she can take for herself. And, also, how much? This is evident in the door open, then closed. How much can she open up and let people in?  How closed off to help or love must she stay? And why?

This kind of conflict leaves her even more alone than she already feels – and only reinforces her emotional hunger. My next posts will discuss the “whys” of Hannah’s conflicts, the kind of help Hannah needs, and how I’d help her if she came to see me for therapy.

For now, let me say this: most 20-somethings are uncertain about relationships, love, sex, and exactly how they feel about a lot of things. They’re finding themselves. Hannah’s problems, however, go much deeper. They require professional help – help and understanding she seems not to be getting at all in Episodes 8 and 9.

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