New song explores how compulsions upend your life - opinion

A person suffering from trich feels a growing sense of tension until they yank out some strands, usually from the head but also from eyebrows, eyelashes or beards.

 EYTAN PELED could pass for Ed Sheeran. (photo credit: Courtesy Eytan Peled)
EYTAN PELED could pass for Ed Sheeran.
(photo credit: Courtesy Eytan Peled)

The WhatsApps pop up with depressing inevitability: 3.27 minutes of a grandchild playing the piano or reciting a poem. A response is expected; especially if the sender is your boss. So it was with reluctance that I opened the link from Dr. Alisa Rubin Peled, academic director of Reichman University’s Argov Program where I teach, introducing her son’s latest song. I clicked and boom! 

My worldview shifted; I would never be the same again.

Eytan Peled, 24, could pass for Ed Sheeran. His hypnotic voice and the mesmerizing graphics of his video clip are reason enough for viral status, but it’s the words that claw at audience’s hearts. Peled suffers from OCD – obsessive-compulsive disorder – which goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression; his “Rituals” lyrics march listeners through the hell of running in circles and getting nowhere, fast, over and over and over and over and over again. 

Obsessive thoughts are recurring loops of worry: did I lock the door? Did I wash my hands? These obsessions cause endless anxiety and distress; for temporary relief a person with OCD performs repetitive actions known as compulsions. Compulsions include incessant hand washing, checking and rechecking the doors, and multiple other routines; Peled compensates for the loss of control as a passenger on a plane by performing ritualistic actions like moving the tray table handles. “I know it’s irrational,” he explains, “but the compulsion to repeat rituals holds us hostage.”

Sometimes the rituals are more visible – Peled’s younger brother, who also suffers from OCD, twitches, clicks his tongue and blinks when compelled by disturbing thoughts. A whole spectrum of syndromes provoke tics and twitches; Tourette’s syndrome, for example, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that torments people with repeated unpleasant sensations in the body, known as premonitory urges, that can only be alleviated by coughing, sniffing, twitching or other rituals. 

Compulsions can chronically upend your life: the constant need to wash your hands whips you out of movies and lectures and dinners with friends; obsessions with symmetry and order have you endlessly rearranging furniture and books. OCD sometimes manifests in hoarding; sufferers can end up surrounded by old newspapers or piles of clothes. Some people count obsessively; if they lose count of steps they are climbing they go back and start again. 

As if that is not enough, OCD comes with other challenges: trichotillomania , for example, is the uncontrollable urge to pull your hair. A person suffering from trich feels a growing sense of tension until they yank out some strands, usually from the head but also from eyebrows, eyelashes or beards. Depression and anxiety also contribute to the condition; COVID, of course, has just made everything worse.

“OCD often peaks in late adolescence,” explains Peled, “and it can make life very, very tough. The reasons are not entirely clear but may include genetic factors or biological/neurological causes such as a chemical imbalance of serotonin in the brain. Sometimes it can be triggered by trauma, or stressful life changes.” But whatever the causes, obsessions can cause endless pain. 

A few months ago, for example, Eytan’s brother woke up to do his five-point math bagrut (matriculation), and simply could not leave the house. The compulsion to repeat rituals, and then repeat them again, incapacitated him; the minutes ticked by and he was stuck. “I was a wreck,” admits Rubin Peled, “and there was nothing I could do to help my son.” 

An SOS to his mentor brought relief; he calmly talked the pupil into taking the exam. The 18 year-old eventually got to school for the most difficult exam in the curriculum and aced it with ease, earning a cool 100%.

The disconnect between intelligence and functioning can be frustrating as hell: the younger Peled can take up to two hours to finish a sentence. Eytan can relate. “I recently travelled with my brother to the States,” he explains, “and while we hung out in a pool in Arizona I asked him all sorts of questions about his compulsions.” There and then he wrote the pain into a song, which will certainly kill you softly.

A niggling clicking and whooshing sound introduces the haunting lyrics:

Tell me who you are, tell me where you’ve been,Tell me why imagination is your only friend,Tell me where you run, tell me why you spendTime building when you feel like you’re breaking from within?When you’re gonna lose the only thing that’s yours,The only thing you never knew was banging at your door,You’re falling and you can’t help but you feel a bit exposed,Clinging onto nothing but your false sense of control,Tell me what you want, tell me all your fears,Why you got a mouth when you haven’t got no ears?Why you got a soul when you haven’t got no tears?Why you got the goals if you don’t put in the years?

The chorus wails the hell of being tired of feeling inspired and of running in circles once again. Rush to download it.

Eytan Peled is a testimony to the power of resilience. He writes music for TV, has millions of views on social media, was an outstanding soldier in his 8200 army unit, taught Arabic and Hebrew at a pre-army Mechina and has just begun a dual degree program at Tel Aviv and Columbia universities in psychology, biology and music. 

The good news, he claims, is that treatment can be very effective for OCD; medications and Cognitive Behavior Therapy can both help, depending on the severity of the case. New treatments, such as Deep TMS, (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), are also promising, according to Rubin Peled. “As a parent it is really awful not to be able to help your child who suffers from this,” she says. “Sometimes hospitalization is necessary. And support is crucially important.”

Eytan Peled is happy to give some of that support: reach him on Facebook or Instagram.

In the meantime, listen to the song!  

The writer lectures at Reichman University and Beit Berl College. [email protected]