Jordan Peterson recalls waking from coma, confused, tethered and 'surrounded by people speaking a foreign language'
Peterson's spiralling personal and family ordeals are detailed in his book but are far from its focus
A year ago, Jordan Peterson woke from a coma in a hospital in Russia strapped to a bed, bewildered and angry and holding little memory of what had gone on since he went to a Toronto hospital two months before.
“I was confused and frustrated not knowing where I was, surrounded by people speaking a foreign language,” he wrote.
“I had six-inch tethers attaching me to the sides of the bed because, in my unconscious state, I had been agitated enough to try to remove the catheters from my arm and leave the ICU.”
One of the last memories Peterson retained was furiously working on a new book, a sequel to his international bestseller 12 Rules for Life.
The result, which he said was largely created “during a time when my family was plagued by sequential and overlapping bouts of seriously impaired health” is Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, released on March 2.
The publication — like seemingly everything surrounding Peterson since his transition from University of Toronto psychology professor to celebrity public psychologist — comes with controversy.
First, some employees at his Canadian publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, protested his book at a teary town hall, as reported by Vice, over allegations that he espouses and empowers alt-right views.
As its publication drew closer, his publicists arranged promotional interviews in several countries. For the first, in Britain, Peterson and his daughter sat at length for an interview with Decca Aitkenhead at the Sunday Times. Peterson’s distaste for the resulting piece was acute.
In a response published on his website, Peterson referred to Aitkenhead’s “sheer cruelty and spite,” and released an audio recording of the interview on YouTube. “I do not think that it is mere thin-skinned sensitivity on my part to believe that I would have fared no worse had I discussed my affairs with an avowed enemy,” he wrote. He cancelled subsequent interviews.
His spiralling personal and family ordeals are detailed in the book but are far from its focus.
In January 2019, his daughter had tricky surgery in Switzerland to replace parts of her artificial ankle. As she recovered, his wife, Tammy, had surgery for what was thought to be a common kidney disease, but turned out to be a rare, often deadly type of cancer.
His wife’s treatment was extensive and arduous and while she recuperated, Peterson wrote in his book, “my health fell apart.”
He had started taking anti-anxiety medication in 2016. His doctor prescribed benzodiazepine, initially for a condition Peterson attributed to an autoimmune reaction to food, but which he continued taking because of the stress associated with “the tumultuous reality of a public figure.”
I can tell you what has saved me, so far — the love I have for my family; the love they have for me
To cope with increased stress over his family’s health, he escalated his dosage. In May 2019, he quit cold turkey but suffered acute benzodiazepine withdrawal. Over three months at a clinic in the United States, they tried to wean him off them.
Returning to his home in Toronto, he wrote, he suffered akathisia, a movement disorder creating constant restlessness and an inability to sit still. It became intolerable and, in December 2019, he went to a Toronto hospital — and he doesn’t remember much else until he awoke in Russia strapped to a bed.
He learned that his daughter and her husband, Andrey Korikov, who is Russian, became concerned his treatment was hurting more than helping and moved him from the Toronto hospital in January 2020 to a hospital in Moscow.
His sudden trip to Russia was arranged over the holidays in a matter of a few days by the consul general of the Russian Federation in Toronto and consular staff, who granted an urgent visa, he wrote.
In Moscow he underwent a procedure “either unknown or regarded as too dangerous in North America,” he wrote.
It involved being placed in a medically induced coma so he would be unconscious for the trauma of withdrawal. He emerged free of the debilitating akathisia and started rehabilitation at a “Reanimatology Ward” in Moscow’s suburbs.
“While there, I had to relearn how to walk and go up and down stairs, button my clothes, lie down in bed on my own, place my hands in the proper position on a computer keyboard, and type,” he wrote.
The family relocated to Florida just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic. In Florida, he found he wasn’t as healed as he had hoped; he suffered trembling and “crippling anxiety.” In May, the Petersons went to a clinic in Serbia that practiced an unspecified “novel approach” to withdrawal.
“I can tell you what has saved me, so far — the love I have for my family; the love they have for me,” he wrote, along with friends and the work he had undertaken, including the book now being released.
“I had to force myself to sit down at the computer. I had to force myself to concentrate… during the endless months that I was possessed by dread and terror. And I was barely able to do it.”
Beyond Order is designed to pick up where its predecessor left off.
The book’s Library of Congress subject heading is “Conduct of Life.” That’s the same category as Oprah Winfrey, Norman Vincent Peale, Deepak Chopra and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
Many of Peterson’s fans, which skew heavily towards the male demographic, come across as people who would have little professed interest in much of the similarly classed fare of self-help books. Yet Peterson’s appeal hit a sweet spot. His popular online presence, robust book sales, 160-city international tour and legions of supporters prove that.
Peterson champions a conservative alternative to a prevailing zeitgeist of social change; he is a man within academia railing against “cultural Marxism,” the “radical left” and “political correctness.” These days, that sometimes sounds akin to a defector jumping the Berlin Wall and outing Soviet moles.
It’s electrifying and divisive.
Introduced to the wider world on a hot-button issue — objection to enforced use of preferred or gender-neutral pronouns, an issue that can define a worldview — he was greeted as either defender of free speech or promulgator of hate.
While he faces the same calls for cancelation that have toppled others, he persevered and thrived from it. His account of his health problems, however, shows that came with some cost. On top of that, was the pandemic.
He said well-wishes from members of the public during his struggles convinced him to press ahead with the book.
“It is a perplexing task to produce a nonfiction book during the global crisis brought about by the spread of COVID-19. It seems absurd, in some sense, even to think about anything else but that illness during this trying time,” Peterson wrote.
“The common circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have rendered everyone’s life tragic in an unimaginable manner.”