Although an unshakable work ethic and complete dedication to one’s work are both factors linked to success, they can have dire consequences on a person’s mental health.

David Foster Wallace, author of the massive critical and commercial success Infinite Jest, is often considered to have been overly dedicated to his work. But this commitment impaired his personal and social life and may have contributed to his decision to commit suicide.

Before his death in 2008, Wallace chose to sacrifice spending time with other people in order to focus solely on The Pale King, a novel he was writing [1]. Wallace tried to avoid social interaction and insisted that he would have trouble working on his manuscript if he were “pulled away” from it [1]. His strict writing practices and high expectations for himself caused him to work in isolation and to cut communication with other people.     

Wallace’s obsessive writing practices also governed his personal life and put him under a great deal of stress. He restructured his entire life in order to gain knowledge he believed would make his novel more realistic. To do research for The Pale King, which was set in a revenue processing center, Wallace signed up for accounting classes and pushed himself to develop thorough understanding of taxation. The pressure he put on himself likely worsened his mental state.

Wallace was known to suffer from depression, and his behaviour also showed many symptoms of  Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), though he was never diagnosed with the disorder. The symptoms of OCPD include an over-dedication to work, rigid adherence to routines, and a fixation with details [2]. The most frightening reality is that many cases of OCPD go undiagnosed, since people with the disorder tend to be very successful and thrive in whatever professional avenue they pursue [2]. Most sufferers simply consider themselves to be perfectionists and believe that their obsessive behaviours are normal.

One of the key reasons why OCPD is a misunderstood diagnosis is because the disorder is often confused with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). People with either disorder suffer from fixations and demonstrate a great difficulty with overcoming their obsessions and compulsions [3, 4]. Nevertheless, an important difference between OCD and OCPD is that people with the latter disorder are unaware of the negative impact their obsessions and compulsions have on them [4]. As a result, these individuals are less likely to seek treatment or help, which lowers the likelihood of being diagnosed and addressing their problematic obsessions.

Counselling and therapy are known to help people who suffer from obsessive disorders. Soccer superstar David Beckham, for instance, has OCD and affirmed that he has a number of compulsive behaviours [5]. Beckham’s obsessive tendencies interfere with his personal life; he often feels a strong need to place his personal items in straight lines and to always keep certain belongings in pairs [6].

He has, however, received treatment to help him deal with his condition and spoken to the media about his struggles with OCD [6]. By opening up about his difficulties, Beckham has encouraged many people with symptoms of  OCD to seek support with their own problems.

Raising awareness on the symptoms of other obsessive disorders, such as OCPD, would likely also encourage people with this debilitating illness to seek the support of professionals when needed. Simply put, many people with OCPD could benefit from understanding that their disorder can drastically impair their personal and social lives.


By: John Dias

Edited by: Veerpal Bambrah

Image by: Harry Ransom Center



[1] Wallace, David Foster. The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel. New York: Little, Brown, 2011. Print.

[2] “Obsessive-compulsive Personality Disorder.” Medline Plus.  (NIH, U.S. National Library of Medicine). Web. 12 Oct. 2015.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: An Information Guide: “Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2011. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.

[3] “What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)? The National Institute of Mental Health (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Web. 9 Oct. 2015.

[4] “Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).” The International OCD Foundation. Web. 11 Oct. 2015.

[5] Adams, Stephen. “OCD: David Beckham Has It-as Do over a Million Other Britons.” The Telegraph. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <>

[6] Dolan, Andy. “The Obsessive Disorder That Haunts My Life.” Daily Mail UK. Web. 28. Oct. 2015.

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