In his first interview in a year, Jordan Peterson describes what happened to him in 2019

Back in February, Jordan Peterson’s daughter Mikhaila posted a video on YouTube announcing that her father had nearly died several times while undergoing a rapid detox from benzodiazepine dependency (aka Valium and Xanax) in a Russian clinic. The whole story sounded very strange but she promised at the time that the next update would come from him. Last week it finally did. On Tuesday Mikhaila posted a family update podcast in which she interviews her father for nearly an hour. I’ve only watched the first half of it and all of it has been Peterson explaining how he became dependent on benzodiazepine.

His use of the drug started in 2016 to deal with anxiety. He upped his dose in 2019 when his wife, who’d been scheduled for surgery, was suddenly told she had terminal cancer and wouldn’t live for another year. According to both Petersons, that started several months in which Peterson’s wife was in danger of dying on a near-daily basis and everyone they consulted told them there was little chance that surgery or chemotherapy would help.

Peterson’s wife began to improve but by this point Peterson himself began to experience serious side-effects from the benzodiazepine. Specifically, he says he had a reaction called akathisia.

“The best way I can describe that is that it was like being jabbed with something, with a prod like a cattle prod, something electric or something sharp, non-stop for all the hours I was awake,” Peterson said. “I couldn’t sit or lay down or stop moving and even if I did get up and move it wasn’t like that made it better, I just couldn’t stop doing it,” he added.

Peterson did try going to two clinics, one apparently in the U.S. and one in Canada. But Peterson’s condition continued to deteriorate so finally his daughter found a clinic in Moscow which offered to put him under to help him detox. Peterson agreed to that and left the clinic in Toronto against the recommendations of doctors there. When he arrived in Moscow doctors discovered that he’d picked up pneumonia in the Toronto hospital, so in addition to being put on heavy sedation for detox he had to be put on a respirator. It was at this point that a doctor in Moscow told Mikhaila Peterson she had brought her father there to die.

But he didn’t die. When he came out of the detox 9 days later, his akathisia was improved but he didn’t remember agreeing to go to the Russian clinic in the first place and was angry at finding himself there. Even then, he remained delusional for more than a week and describes a waking dream that he’d been kidnapped by someone in Florida. The kidnapper, Peterson believed, planned to kill him as a way to impress his girlfriend. After 9 days of being delusional, he finally recovered some of his senses.

As to why he took the risk to go to the Moscow clinic, Peterson said he was told by one doctor that his akathisia could last up to two years and at that point he thought he couldn’t possibly survive that long feeling the way he did so he was willing to try something desperate.

“The reason I did survive certainly wasn’t because I was enjoying my life. The reason was is that I had family that I was very attached to and friends who went above and beyond the call of duty helping to care for me but the experience was intolerably dreadful.”

And even after that their were lasting effects. Peterson describes going to a rehab facility after the Moscow clinic and one night he got up to use the bathroom and came back to bed only to realize he couldn’t remember how to get back in bed. He wound up calling a nurse to help him.

I’ve never experience akathisia but I have felt something like what he is describing last year when I had a kidney stone. The pain was truly unbearable from moment to moment. I couldn’t sit or stand or rest and it went on hour after hour. I just kept moving trying to find some peace for even a moment or two. I ended up in an emergency room where I was finally given a shot that made the pain stop. I’ve never felt so much relief in my life as that moment. After about 6-8 hours of non-stop pain I could finally rest. In my case, doctors diagnosed the problem in a few hours and told me the stone would likely pass in hours or a few weeks (it took 2 1/2 awful weeks unfortunately). But if someone had told me it might last 2 years, I think I could easily imagine trying anything, including going to a clinic in Russia, to make it stop. If you’ve ever experienced that kind of sustained, intense pain, you know what I’m talking about.

Later in the interview Peterson says he’s been able to work on his book for the past few months. He says he’s well aware of the fact that some people think it’s odd to take advice from someone whose own life collapsed in such disorder. “A dependence is more ethically questionable, right? Everyone thinks…the person obviously made some errors in choice that contributed to this,” he said. But despite the fact that he had a lot of critics in the world he said he was pleased that the “proportion of negative comments about what I was going through was very small.”

“Why should people take anything I say seriously because of that? I guess what I would say is if you’re going to wait to learn from people who don’t make mistakes or don’t have tragedy enter their lives you’re going to spend a long time waiting to learn something,” he said.

I actually think this could help Peterson, assuming he continues to improve and can get through this without any kind of relapse. Before he was hated by many people for his views but also I think in part because he seemed somewhat patrician and unshakeable. He was a rocky shore on which many interviewers dashed themselves. Now he has been through a truly horrible set of experiences that give him a fresh perspective and make him obviously fragile. Hopefully that will reset his relationship with his critics a bit. I guess we’ll find out in the next few months.

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