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Famous Author’s Self-Destructive Pursuit of Perfectionism

The brilliant American writer David Foster Wallace committed suicide on September 12th, 2008. He was only 46-years-old. For many months prior to his death, Wallace had been in a deep depression. About ten years after Wallace’s death, Dr. David Kessler M.D. wrote an article in Psychology Today reflecting on what may have caused Wallace’s tragic end:

Wallace’s 2008 suicide at the age of 46 devastated the literary community. He was, at that time, acclaimed as the boldest, most innovative writer of his generation ... Despite Wallace’s frustration with his inability to complete the book [The Pale King], in some ways his life had never been better. He had married four years earlier and was comfortably settled in California, with a teaching job he loved. Why then did he take his own life?

Wallace’s life offers an example of what can happen when … striving perfectionism, which evolves into relentless self-criticism and becomes coupled with an uncanny ability to analyze the flaws in one’s own analysis … Wallace was caught up by this very loop, which resulted in a despair that ultimately he could not conceive of ever escaping. Yet, swimming upstream through his own torrent of disapproval, Wallace always hoped for more: more achievement, more recognition, more love.

David Kessler, M.D., “Captives of the Mind”; Psychology Today, (May/June 2016), Pages 81-86

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