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  • Micah Coate

Jordan

Updated: Apr 29

…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” Romans 5:3-4 ESV

Clinical Psychologist, author, and YouTube personality, Jordan Peterson has amassed a large and diverse following. From his politically charged lectures to his practical advice, he has helped bring order to millions of chaotic lives. At the pinnacle of his success we’ll learn about Jordan’s recent crisis of health, how he emerged from it, and the place that God might have in his life now. Through all this, we will consider why Dr. Peterson has attracted so many people, and what we all can learn from him.

In February of 2020, the man slowly awoke from a deep sleep — not a deep sleep as if he had been out all night, but a deep sleep as if he had been in a coma. Actually, it was a medically induced coma that lasted for over a week. The fifty-seven-year-old man had been completely unconscious for nine days. And if he was arousing from a nightmare, the reality he awoke to was much worse. As his eyes opened, the man noticed he couldn’t move, not because his body wasn’t working, but because his body was strapped down to the patient bed with six large leather straps in an ICU room that didn’t quite look familiar.


If this wasn’t enough to strike serious fear into his already anxious mind, he noticed the nurses surrounding him were speaking a foreign language. Lastly, the man remembered he was in a hospital in Toronto with his family nearby. But now (whenever ‘now’ was), he was in a totally different hospital, in a totally different country strapped down to bed with the only people around him speaking Russian.


These were the confusing and dire circumstances the man awoke to, quickly escalating his anxious and fragile thoughts to anger, fear, and unadulterated panic. Confusion, dreadful apprehension, and hopelessness had been his unwanted companions, and yet despite his best efforts, they were only gaining in size and scope. As he began wrestling with thoughts of self-harm, the man could only describe this descent in madness as a trip to Hell.


This was not the life of someone who had 1.4 million Twitter followers, 1.3 million Instagram followers, 860,000 Facebook followers, 207,000 Reddit followers, and who the New York Times would proclaim as being “The most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.” This is someone who had dedicated his life and career to better understand the human mind and to give practical help to others with psychological disorders.


But it was painfully obvious now that Jordan B. Peterson, the famed Canadian professor of psychology, clinical psychologist, and Youtube personality, couldn’t keep his own mind from fracturing. Like the most broken and miserable of people, he too was at a total loss. And after months of entrusting his mental and physical health to psychologists, psychiatrists, and the best that medicine could offer, he was now completely dependent upon the only two forces that mattered in his life: his family and his faith in God. The former were unmistakingly known and present. The latter was invisible, nebulous, and shrouded in deep mystery. No matter how much Dr. Peterson relied upon his close friends and family, they were only human and could only provide so much. Jordan needed healing and relief that his family — indeed, humanity could not fully provide.


Who and what God and faith were to Jordan was unclear. But that he wanted and was desperate for him, now more than ever, was definitely not.

Jordan Bernt Peterson was born June 12, 1962, in Edmonton, Alberta Canada, and grew up in the nearby small town of Fairview. His mother, Beverly, was a librarian at the campus of Grande Prairie Regional College. His father, Walter, was a school teacher. The small framed Jordan would be the eldest of his parents’ three children.


With nothing much to do in the small town, everyone knew one other quite well. Jordan became friends with a girl across the street named Tammy Roberts. She was only eight years old, but it seemed they had a crush on each other. The 11-year-old Jordan would tell his father that he was going to marry her one day. But first he had to finish high school that he started in 1975.


When he graduated from Fairview High School four years later, Jordan entered the college, which employed his mother, to study political science and English Literature in hopes to one day become a corporate lawyer. But during this time he read George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, a book that wrestled with the bleak life of those working in the industrial age of north England and the place that Socialism could have in alleviating their miserable circumstances. Orwell’s book impacted Jordan greatly. He would later transfer to the University of Alberta and graduate in 1982 with a B.A. in political science. Just after this, Jordan visited Europe for a year where he took a studious approach to understanding the psychological origins of recent European totalitarianism. This led him to not only become a student of history but of psychology where he delved into the writings of Jung, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky.


Two years after receiving his first B.A., Jordan received his second degree, which was in psychology, from the University of Alberta in 1984. He then moved to Montreal for further schooling at McGill University. It was during this stint that Jordan married his lifelong friend and neighbor, Tammy, shortly before earning his Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1991. The newly-weds soon welcomed their first child and daughter, Mikhaila, in 1992 and their second child and son, Julian, in 1994. Mikhaila suffered greatly from an autoimmune disease at a very young age and was “diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at 7, severe depression at 10, and idiopathic hypersomnia at 21.” (1) By the time she was only 17 years old, the young woman had to undergo a hip and ankle replacement.


In this busy time of raising a young family, with the added stress of one child suffering a severe autoimmune disease, Jordan and Tammy moved to the United States so Jordan could teach and research at Harvard University. After five years they returned to Canada where he would join the faculty of psychology at the University of Toronto in 1998. He has remained there since.


Among being a husband, father, teacher, and clinical psychologist, Jordan soon became an author. In 1999, he published his first book, Maps of Meaning. It was a collection from his many lectures that explored the connection between psychology, philosophy, mythology, religion, and neuroscience. As time passed Jordan grew in both his practice and knowledge. His time at the University of Toronto allowed him to find his voice and compile his thoughts in a world that was changing faster than ever before, and where extreme political ideologies were growing, largely unchallenged. Jordan began to make a name for himself in late 2010, for what seemed to be his conservative views regarding the cultural changes sweeping across the western world.


But it wasn’t until 2016 that Jordan really began to become a known figure on an international scale. In May of 2016 a certain bill was introduced under Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government. It was an Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, otherwise known as (Bill C-16). Passing in the House and Senate, the new bill became law upon receiving Royal Assent on June 19, 2017, which came into force immediately. The bill’s aim was to prevent violence and discrimination against individuals on the basis of their gender identity or their gender expression by penalizing or even criminalizing citizens for not using the preferred chosen pronouns of the aforementioned.

Incensed that the new bill would legally require compelled speech, Jordan began to boldly and clearly speak out for free speech and against any law that either stifled or compelled it. Having a rich knowledge of totalitarianism and knowing this bill was politically driven, Jordan put out a series of Youtube videos condemning the bill, which spilled over into a general critique of political correctness and identity politics. His videos quickly garnered millions of views, stirring the hornets nest of the far left but resonating and gaining support with far more people from a variety backgrounds. This put him at odds with the extreme progressives whose cultural and political foes usually came from conservative and/or religious sects. And oddly, Jordan was neither of these. He might have held some views that leaned further right than left, but he always classified himself as a classic liberal, and he wasn’t speaking from a pulpit. Indeed, Jordan held to objective morality, but his own personal views on religion were nebulous and were far from fitting into a traditional systematic theology. Instead of speaking from a political or religious platform, Jordan spoke from an academic one, being a highly regarded psychologist, whose articulation and deep thinking formed a scholastic hybrid of philosophy, psychiatry, and history that challenged, as well as encouraged, many in unfamiliar ways.


Even though bill C-16 was ultimately passed, Jordan and his critique served as a public bulwark against extreme ideologies that usually sneak into legislation largely unnoticed and worse, unchallenged. But Jordan was not a one-trick pony. He seemed to take any invitation to speak and could give lectures on a variety of topics ranging from religion, mythology, and history to philosophy, totalitarianism, and neuroscience. He also encouraged healthy masculinity and by doing so, found himself at odds with the current feminist doctrine of “toxic masculinity.” His prior stance on rejecting compelled speech for the transgendered created another group of political enemies. Jordan was also one of the few public figures taking on the mantel of the identity politic of “white privilege.” But Jordan’s courage to speak out against mainstream social issues was not done without a cost. A staff member at Penguin Random House Canada, (by whom he was published) summarily accused Jordan of being "an icon of hate speech and transphobia" as well as "an icon of white supremacy." (2) By all his political adversaries, Jordan was generally dismissed as an “angry white man.”


But despite the many political, philosophical, and controversial overtones of Jordan’s content, much of his advice was very practical, down to earth, and irrefutably good. In a word, Jordan challenged everyone, both his private clients and those millions publicly listening to his lectures, to become better people by accepting more responsibility. Stand up straight. Make your bed. Beautify at least one room in your house. Discipline your children. Tell the truth. Work hard and be grateful in times of suffering were just some of his overall messages that attracted many and various types of people. Although Jordan had unintentionally amassed a large following of younger men, his audience was made up of men and women, theists and atheists, religious and secular, as well as those on the political right and left. All found Jordan’s insight and advice to be thought provoking at least, and life changing at best.


Continuing to appear on countless shows, podcasts, interviews, debates, and lectures, Jordan’s fame was growing widespread. In 2018 he took a break from his teaching and clinical duties to work on his 2nd book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. The groundwork had been laid for the self-help book to quickly become a bestseller in several countries. And it was. Being promoted with a world tour, Jordan would eventually sell more than 5 million copies. He had been in the public eye for years, but now his popularity was soaring and his ideas, both the simple and complex, the practical and the philosophical, were not only being welcomed but tried and found true by many. After the book tour, it seemed Jordan was at the pinnacle of his success. But little did he know that by very beginning of 2019, his life and the lives of his loved ones would start to unravel.


But unknown by Jordan, things may have started to go wrong as early as 2016. He stopped taking an anti-anxiety agent that he had been on for 20 years because of a recent change in his diet that he thought had rendered them of little or no use. But soon after in 2017, Jordan became very anxious and could not warm his body. He always felt physically cold no matter how many layers he covered himself with. His blood pressure also became dangerously low, causing him to nearly black out when rising up from a sitting position. And on top of all this, Jordan suffered from complete insomnia. Sleep is the one thing that anxious and depressed people need and crave as it’s the only time to allow their mind to rest.


With all these aliments, Jordan’s family physician soon prescribed a benzodiazepine, which greatly helped with the insomnia and lessened the other symptoms as well. Under the assumption that benzodiazepines were relatively harmless, Jordan continued to take them for the next three years. While this change of medicine seemed like a good decision at the time, being coupled with the success of his book and his world tour, it might have precipitated his severely impaired health that started in January of 2019. The year started in Zurich, Switzerland, where Jordan’s daughter, Mikhaila, underwent surgery to replace much of her ankle that was originally replaced over a decade earlier. And while it wasn’t a life-threatening surgery, Jordan noticed an abnormal fear within himself beginning to rise.


No sooner had Jordan seemed to emotionally recover from his daughter’s stint in the infirmary, only two months later, in early March, his wife, Tammy, prepared to undergo surgery to remove her kidney cancer. Although the cancer was fairly common and completely treatable, there was always a risk. This only heightened Jordan’s troubled and anxious thoughts, and the surgery thankfully went as planned, but 6 weeks later, Tammy’s diagnosis changed for the worse. She was actually being afflicted with a rare malignancy “which had a one-year fatality rate of near 100 percent.” (3 - Overture xvi).


With this news, Jordan was now dying inside. His mind and body was racked with fear. As their 30th wedding anniversary approached, Jordan could not fathom living without his lifelong friend and wife. Two weeks later, Tammy underwent another surgery to remove the rest of her kidney and the nearby lymphatic system. The procedure seemed to stop the cancer from growing but introduced another fatal predicament of her now-impaired lymphatic system leaking fluid, up to a gallon in a single day. Tammy and Jordan immediately traveled to Philadelphia to begin more testing and treatment options. After only being there four days, the draining completely and miraculously stopped. Thankfully, while Tammy recovered to wholeness remarkably fast, Jordan’s descent was just beginning.


In the midst of being with his daughter and wife through all their surgeries and recoveries, Jordan asked his doctor to prescribe a higher dosage of the benzodiazepines, as he was in an unusually stressful time in his already stressful life. But all this did was make his anxiety worse. In another attempt to treat his constant depression and severe distress, Jordan’s doctor took him off of the benzodiazepines to try a new drug, Ketamine. Jordan said the few times he took the anesthetic / psychedelic, it felt like a 90-minute trip to Hell. Soon after jettisoning the Ketamine, Jordan then went into acute benzodiazepine withdrawal. The physical pain and mental anguish were unbearable. Jordan now suffered from uncontrollable restlessness, extreme anxiety, thoughts of self harm and even suicide.


After learning about the dangers of sudden benzodiazepine withdrawal, a close friend and physician started Jordan on the benzodiazepines once again in hopes of a controlled and slow withdrawal. While this helped with the more immediate symptoms, he was far from healthy, and after about three months, it was clear that Jordan was not improving or really cutting back on benzodiazepines. He then traveled to an American clinic that specialized in benzodiazepine withdrawal. After three and a half months there, with no benefit, Jordan and his family began to look elsewhere. By December of 2019, after nearly a year of mental trauma and physical decline, Jordan left the states and checked himself into a local hospital in Toronto. He was there for about a month, during which, once again, the help he received was very limited. Besides finding no real answers in Toronto, Jordan contracted double pneumonia. By this time he was delirious. And then it went dark.


The next thing Jordan remembered was waking up in Moscow. Out of desperation, his family had moved him there from the Toronto hospital. The facility in Moscow had placed Jordan in a medically induced coma to treat the worst of the withdrawal symptoms. On January 14, he was extubation and taken off anesthetics and a week later moved to an ICU for neurological rehabilitation. Here, Jordan, practiced basic motor skills like walking up stairs and learning to sit and type. By February 7, 2020, Jordan was slowly getting better, so the family decided to relocate to the warm weather in Florida, but that was just as COVID 19 became a worldwide pandemic. By May, three months after leaving Russia, Jordan was becoming worse and had returned to the original medication that had been forcefully stopped in Russia. Jordan was defeated. With no hope and nothing to lose, Jordan and his family decided to move to a Serbian clinic that practiced “a novel approach to the problem of benzodiazepine withdrawal” (4 - xxi).


Finally, five months later, after nearly two years of battling severe depression, anxiety, and benzodiazepine withdrawal, Jordan emerged from his ordeal, not fully recovered, on October 19, 2020, to inform his Youtube audience of all that had befallen him and his family. Slowly and carefully, he began to complete his third book, 12 more rules, which was published March 2, 2021. Since then, Jordan’s life has started to look like it did before, (as he has been busy engaging in more interviews, podcasts, and shows), but looks are almost always deceiving. Jordan was not the same, nor will he be the same as before this trying crisis of health.


His traumatic experience is still being processed, not only because it just happened, but sadly, as of writing this, the lingering effects remain a very real part of his life now.


It might be easy for onlookers to forget his dire circumstances, but it will not be easy nor even possible for Jordan to forget, even if he wanted to. Going through an ordeal like that is never forgotten. One simply never “gets over it.” While there is healing and newness, traumatic events like that change everyone for better or worse. Evidence of this is seen in Jordan’s wife, Tammy. Because of her near-death experience, Jordan confessed that she has begun “attending to some issues regarding her own spiritual development.” (5) And no doubt Jordan has and will do the same.

But exactly what that will look like, no one knows. It seems Jordan himself doesn’t even know. With his health crisis still too close to put behind him, Jordan did an interview on March 1, 2021. Regarding the person of Jesus and his faith in Him, Jordan soberly contemplated.


“…so what you have in the figure of Christ, is an actual person who actually lived, plus a myth and in some sense Christ is the union of those two things. The problem is, is that I probably believe that… but I am amazed at my own belief and I don’t understand it.” (6)


Jordan expressly stated what saved him in this ordeal: “The love I have for my family; the love they have for me; the encouragement they have delivered, along with my friends; the fact that I still had meaningful work I could struggle through during the abyss.” (7 - xxiii). But it should leave us asking: What is the love of family, and friends, and the drive to produce meaningful work without the One who is love and gives meaning to all things?


Micah Coate, President and Host of Salvation and Stuff

Works Cited:

  1. (https://carnivoremd.com/mikhaila-peterson-on-curing-autoimmune-disease-and-depression-with-the-carnivore-diet/).

  2. (https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/nov/24/jordan-b-peterson-book-deal-triggers-penguin-rando/).

  3. Peterson, Jordan, Beyond Order 12 More Rules for Life.

  4. Peterson, Jordan, Beyond Order 12 More Rules for Life.

  5. Peterson, Jordan, Beyond Order 12 More Rules for Life.

  6. Peterson interview, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbVwV8_TEkM.

  7. Peterson, Jordan, Beyond Order 12 More Rules for Life.

  8. Photograph, https://www.ticketmaster.com/dr-jordan-peterson-tickets/artist/2467707.

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