When Jordan Peterson landed on Australian soil last February he was at the top of his game, with a hit book, a thriving YouTube channel and millions of adoring fans to his name.
But within weeks, the self-proclaimed “Professor Against Political Correctness” and rock star psychologist’s life would fall spectacularly apart.
Dr Peterson, whose 2018 book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos has sold more than three million copies worldwide, had until that point made headlines with almost every move and comment.
But he all but disappeared from public life soon after his Australian tour, with his daughter recently confirming he had been privately battling some serious demons ever since.
WHO IS JORDAN PETERSON?
The 58-year-old is a Canadian psychology professor at the University of Toronto who has amassed an incredible online following, with 3.26 million YouTube subscribers.
But he has also emerged as one of the most divisive public figures in recent times.
While supporters fawn over his no-nonsense advice and refusal to cave into the demands of political correctness, sceptics accuse him of a raft of sins, with a staff member at his publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, recently telling Vice he was “an icon of hate speech and transphobia” and “an icon of white supremacy”.
He’s made a name for himself by railing against everything from feminism to social justice warriors and preaching about the need to take responsibility for your own actions, but while right-wing fans have flocked to his straight-talking ways, he’s become an enemy of many on the left.
He’s under the spotlight now after a lengthy absence because it was announced that his next book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, will be released in March 2021 – leading to a revolt among publishing staff.
PETERSON’S YEAR FROM HELL
He confirmed that his life began to unravel after his beloved wife Tammy, who he had known since childhood, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of kidney cancer with “a near 100 per cent fatality rate” in 2019.
As he struggled to cope with the tragic news, Dr Peterson requested his doctor increase his dosage of benzodiazepine, a medication commonly taken to treat anxiety and insomnia which he had been taking since 2016 after he and his family fell ill after a meal.
Dr Peterson, who has depression, claims he began to experience extreme symptoms including an inability to sleep, and took the drugs as prescribed without experiencing any “high”.
But he also soon began to experience “a feeling of detachment from people around me” which especially affected his relationship with his son, Julian.
After his dosage was upped following his wife’s diagnosis, Dr Peterson had a rare reaction, with the drug actually increasing the very anxiety it was supposed to treat.
That led him to ditch the benzodiazepine in favour of ketamine before quitting both drugs at the same time.
It didn’t go well, and Dr Peterson then developed akathisia, a condition which can cause restlessness, mental distress and an inability to sit still.
“It was like being jabbed with something like a cattle prod, something electric, sharp, non-stop, for all the hours I was awake,” he said in his YouTube update.
“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 … it was horrible, it’s like being whipped.
“It sounds melodramatic, but I think if I had to pick whipping or akathisia … a cat-o’-nine-tails, that might be worse, but it was plenty bad. And things just fell apart more and more.”
In November 2019, Dr Peterson entered a rehab centre in New York but after that failed, he flew to Russia for emergency treatment, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and spent eight days in a medically-induced coma.
The process was brutal, but Dr Peterson began to recover, moving to a clinic in Florida and then Belgrade – before being struck down by coronavirus.
In short, it has been an almost unbelievable series of horrific circumstances that totally derailed the Peterson family’s lives – and from which they are still recovering.
SO WHAT NEXT?
Dr Peterson’s recovery is still very much a work in progress, and whether or not he’ll return to public life to the same extent as before is still up in the air.
And apart from the physical and emotional trauma, there’s also the question of how Dr Peterson’s image will recover, which he freely acknowledges himself, describing a drug dependence as “ethically questionable”.
“Because you think, well, the person obviously made some errors in choice that contributed to this,” he said.
“Like, why would anyone take anything I say seriously?”
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But Dr Peterson has also been inundated with support from still-loyal followers following the frank admission, with countless people reaching out in solidarity.
What the future will look like for Dr Peterson is anyone’s guess, but he’s unlikely to sit on the sidelines for long, provided his health continues to improve.
And in his own words: “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 into their life …”