A Chicago psychiatrist stars as the expert on TLC's new docuseries, My Strange Addiction.
When Keesha Davis goes to the movies, she doesn’t eat popcorn. Instead the 34-year-old from University Park, a suburb 40 miles southwest of Chicago, prefers to snack on toilet paper. She’s partial to two-ply tissue, which she pulls apart in square-inch pieces and pops onto her tongue as if they’re M&M’s. She also eats TP while driving her car, during meals and, inevitably, while going to the bathroom—up to a half-roll a day. In 23 years, Davis has ingested more than 1,200 pounds of tissue.
“I do want to stop, but I don’t know how,” Davis tells her sister on the engrossing new show My Strange Addiction, which airs on TLC Wednesdays at 8pm. “With things like drug addictions, when they stop doing the drug, they get away from the drug. There’s no escaping toilet paper.”
Television viewers have become very familiar with the rehab genre. Programs such as A&E’s Intervention and VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew portray the well-worn cycle of drug and alcohol dependency and (entertaining attempts at) recovery. Last spring, TLC aired a show in that vein called Addiction that wasn’t renewed for a second season.
But you won’t see any meth-heads blankly staring into the camera or crack-smoking, profanity-spewing teen moms on My Strange Addiction. The 12-part docuseries—which is more in line with A&E’s OCD-treatment show, Obsessed—presents a procession of fascinating and truly odd obsessives seeking treatment: a woman who sleeps with a turned-on blow-dryer, a man married to a life-size doll, a chalk eater who also swigs a cup of blue detergent every time she does laundry.
Providing running commentary for each case on the show is John Zajecka, associate professor of psychiatry and clinical director of the Depression Treatment and Research Center at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center. (Other psychiatrists provide face-to-face counseling.) The 52-year-old M.D., whose focus is obsessive-compulsive disorders, notes the show’s title is misleading. “It’s not addiction in the conventional sense,” Zajecka tells me. “The people on the show fall into that in-between category, more of a regulation and tension-releasing thing that becomes almost obsessional. They’re addicted to behavior that soothes them, and it’s hard to let that go.”
Zajecka recognizes that some viewers will tune in to My Strange Addiction for the freak show, but says he wouldn’t have signed onto a project that exploits people in order to sensationalize their disorders. “It may be entertaining to hear about how bizarre some of these cases are, but the level of how odd it is dissipates very quickly when you see how distressed these people and those around them are. When you put a face to it, you get a much better understanding that there’s a human being behind this that’s struggling with something,” Zajecka says. “One of the positive outcomes of the show is that people who suffer from similar conditions can realize they’re not alone, and people who know someone like this will have a better understanding of the level of distress these people are under.”
In the case of Davis, Zajecka comments in the show that her toilet-paper habit could lead to potentially fatal bowel obstruction. When I talked with her by phone two weeks ago, Davis reported disagreeing with the psychiatrist to whom she was sent for an hour-long session during the summer taping. “She said [toilet paper] is like my God that I pray to and I gotta have the tissue. And I was like, ‘No, I do it because I want to do it. It’s not like I need to do it.’ She said, ‘Well, why don’t you just stop?’ I said, ‘I tried to stop, but it wasn’t that easy,’?” Davis says. “I stopped maybe for a week. Then I fell off the wagon.”