The director/actress boldly speaks out about her battles with OCD, hypochondria and anxiety

By Kelli Bender
Updated August 26, 2014 03:30 PM
John Shearer/Invision/AP

If you think Lena Dunham‘s afraid of a few critical assessments of her colorful Emmys gown, think again. The Girls creator just released an excerpt from her upcoming memoir that recounts her battle with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and her many fears while growing up as a hypochondriac and germophobe.

The 28-year-old’s $3.5 million book, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned, won’t be available until Sept. 30, but fans and critics can get a peek at the project in The New Yorker now.

Dunham has shared a significant chunk of her deeply personal story with the periodical. The excerpt titled “Difficult Girl” starts with the actress/director at age 8, when she first remembers being blanketed by the overwhelming power of fear.

“I am eight, and I am afraid of everything. The list of things that keep me up at night includes but is not limited to: appendicitis, typhoid, leprosy, unclean meat, foods I haven’t seen emerge from their packaging, foods my mother hasn’t tasted first so that if we die we die together, homeless people, headaches, rape, kidnapping, milk, the subway, sleep,” she describes.

This paralyzing worry continues to manifest itself in new ways. Only a few years into elementary school, and Dunham is spending days in the school nurse’s office certain that she is stricken with scarlet fever, polio or leukemia.

“The germophobia morphs into hypochondria morphs into sexual anxiety morphs into the pain and angst that accompany entry into middle school,” Dunham writes.

She then goes on to describe in great emotional detail the search to find the right therapist to help her comfortably confront her concerns, and how she found that professional mother figure in a woman named Lisa. The progress with Lisa reveals to Dunham her underlying obsessive-compulsive disorder, an area she has also explored through her character Hannah in Girls.

“Sitting with my mother in the beauty salon one afternoon, I come across an article about obsessive-compulsive disorder. A woman describes her life, so burdened with obsessions that she has to lick art in museums and crawl on the sidewalk. Her symptoms aren’t much worse than mine: the magazine’s description of her most horrible day parallels my average one. I tear the article out and bring it to Lisa, whose face crumples sympathetically, as though the moment she’d been dreading had finally arrived. It makes me want to throw my needlepoint supplies in her face,” the actress shares.

With a growing awareness of the causes behind her mental anguish, Dunham presses on – with assistance from several professionals – making her way to college, but more importantly to a stronger sense of self.

“I’ve called her [the therapist] from beaches, speeding vehicles in Western states, crouched behind a dumpster, in the parking lot of my college dormitory, and from my bedroom ten blocks from her office, when I didn’t have the energy to make my way to her couch,” writes Dunham. “From Europe, Japan, and Israel. I’ve whispered to her about guys who were sleeping next to me. Never has the sound of her voice, that calm but expectant hello, not put me at ease. She answers on the second ring, and all my muscles and veins relax.”

The passage ends on a note of optimism, a hopeful thought for her future self that we have watched grow into the talented celebrity who walked the Emmys red carpet Monday night. Overall, Dunham’s excerpt shows an honest look into the unique daily and life-long effects mental illness has on a person, a reality that is often overlooked. It is also an opportunity to see from where HBO’s outspoken star draws her current strength and confidence, even in the face of entertainment’s harshest fashion police.

Want more stories like this?

Sign up for our newsletter and other special offers:

Thank you for signing up!