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Jordan Peterson wrote the bestselling book 12 Rules For Life. Since, his own has unravelled.

Eighteen months ago, I sat at Sydney's International Conventional Centre and listened to a man named Dr Jordan B Peterson tell me how to live my life. 

He spoke for 90 minutes to an audience of more than 9,000 people. He told us to find a purpose. Something to fight for. To make the world better than it would be otherwise. To make our bed literally and metaphorically. He said that life is hard. That we're all capable of turning into monsters. Rather than wallowing in self pity, he told us that we all have a responsibility to be the best version of ourselves. That we all ought to tilt the world a little more towards heaven and a little further away from hell. 

The speaking tour came off the back of his bestselling book 12 Rules For Life which has sold more than three million copies – a figure just about unheard of in publishing. A clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, Peterson was described in early 2018 as "the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now."

For more: Jordan Peterson Q&A appearance: Why his show has audiences in tears.

Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, however, has been discussed everywhere from The New York Times, to The Washington Post to The Australian to Mamamia, where robust debates have echoed within our office walls. 

On the one hand, he preaches personal responsibility and seeks to empower ordinary people to do and be better. On the other, he erases the importance of class structures, advocates against political correctness, and, in 2016, famously refused to use gender-neutral pronouns. He's critical of feminism and the notion of white privilege, and is oftentimes seen as an alt-right figure, even if that isn't where he sees himself. 

Peterson began hosting his own podcast at the end of 2016, and was a regular guest on The Joe Rogan Experience. Last year he appeared on Q&A and was the subject of a 2019 documentary called The Rise of Jordan Peterson. His career was sky-rocketing in his mid-fifties in a way he'd never anticipated. 

Watch Jordan Peterson on ABC's Q&A. Post continues below. 


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And then it all went wrong. 

Perhaps we should start with the diet.

His daughter, 28-year-old Mikhaila Peterson, is best known for promulgating 'The Lion Diet', which consists of eating only beef, salt and water. Through a blog and YouTube channel, Mikhaila claims the diet cured her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, severe depression, idiopathic hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness), lyme disease and psoriasis. 

Shortly after she found success with The Lion Diet, Jordan Peterson tried the same. He told Joe Rogan in July 2018 that his depression and anxiety vanished, and he found his mind was sharper. 

"I’m certainly intellectually at my best," he said. "I’m stronger, I can swim better, and my gum disease is gone. It’s like, what the hell?"

Unsurprisingly, doctors and dieticians warn against cutting out all food groups except meat, citing an increased risk of cancer, constipation issues and serious vitamin deficiencies. 

While on that same podcast, Peterson said he'd deviated from the diet with an apple cider, and "didn't sleep at all for 25 days." 

When Rogan asked how that was possible, he said: "I’ll tell you how it’s possible: You lay in bed frozen in something approximating terror for eight hours. And then you get up."

For someone so reliant on data, Peterson sometimes breaks his own rules. The longest a human has ever gone without sleep, as far as we know, is 11 days, which was witnessed by a Stanford research team. 

His wife of 20 years Tammy Peterson also adopted the diet, and at the end of 2018, Mikhaila posted a picture of her 57-year-old mum with the caption: "I've had some older women ask what fixing up diet can do for them. This is my mom after almost a year of carnivore (beef and chicken. Mainly beef). Damn mom. She's 57. She looked great before too, but this diet has made a huge difference."

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Six months later, Tammy was diagnosed with kidney cancer. 

There is no evidence that her cancer was in any way linked to her carnivore diet. But this event is critical, because of what happened to Peterson as a result. 

Throughout Tammy's treatment, Peterson is said to have rarely left the hospital, and travelled to the United States with her for treatment. He barely slept and was under significant stress. As a result, his family doctor prescribed him antidepressants and the anti-anxiety drug Klonopin, which is a long-acting benzodiazepine.

For more: What no one is saying about Jordan Peterson. 

While the drugs are said to have worked for a time, as Tammy's health improved Peterson decided to stop taking the medication. He experienced what his daughter has described as "horrific physical withdrawal and anxiety". By November 2019, Peterson entered a rehabilitation centre in New York. He was said to be suffering from a disorder called akathisia, which causes restlessness and an inability to sit still. Eventually, this led him to thoughts of suicide. 

According to Mikhaila, the rehabilitation in New York didn't work. Peterson "nearly died several times" in hospital in North America, before the decision was made in January to fly him to Russia for emergency treatment. He was unable to speak or write, and took anti-seizure medicine. Upon arrival, Peterson was also diagnosed with pneumonia. Eventually, he was placed in a medically induced coma for eight days. 

In February of this year, just one year since I'd seen him speak in front of thousands, Mikhaila told the National Post that Peterson "has neurological damage, and a long way to go to full recovery."

She added: "He is taking anti-seizure medication and cannot type or walk unaided, but is 'on the mend' and his sense of humour has returned."

After Peterson completed his treatment in Russia, he is believed to have returned to the United States, before travelling to Serbia. 

There, Peterson was diagnosed with COVID-19, along with Mikhaila and her daughter. 

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Mikhaila shared what took place on Instagram:

"Long story short, we got to Belgrade, and the country was COMPLETELY open, no masks necessary. A month later everything shut down again after elections. Politics... We all went back into quarantine because we’re with my dad and he’s high risk. He already had pneumonia this year. Ten days into the strict quarantine – and I mean strict, we didn’t go outside of the property – my toddler got symptoms of a flu – swiftly followed by the rest of us. Turns out a lot of people in Belgrade caught it, she must have caught it at the playground.⁣

"Dad’s doctor immediately told us it was COVID and I full on didn’t believe him for two weeks. It was too mild for me, I thought. During that two-week period I had symptoms like nausea, bloating, diarrhea, stuffy nose, puffy face, skin breakouts, muscle weakness, a few days of a slight temperature and a very, very slight wheeze for two days. Not the worst virus I’ve had in the last year, although the symptoms lasted longer – off and on for 18 days and there’s still lingering bloating. ⁣

"My dad caught it too, and he didn’t have many symptoms either. When they did a CT scan, they said 40 per cent of his lungs were affected, however his breathing was fine. They treated him just in case. The meds dad was put on to treat it seemed to be harsher than the actual virus, he’s okay now too.⁣

"I used to be an 'at risk person'. I was on immune suppressants, I’ve had bronchitis at least 12 times, pneumonia three times and I’ve been hospitalised for it once. I still stand by my previous complaints about locking down countries.⁣

"I’m sorry to anyone who has experienced a worse case of the virus or who has lost anyone to it. That’s miserable. So is suicide from lockdown anxiety and lifelong neuroticism from children growing up in a lockdown though.

"Perhaps if we focused on making people healthier the world wouldn’t be so screwed up by a virus that doesn’t really kill healthy people... yikes, I went there. Video of the experience on YouTube."






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I had covid-19. This is what I looked like during it (although there we’re definitely rougher looking puffier days). ⁣ ⁣ As if this year couldn’t get any weirder, my family caught coronavirus in Belgrade. ⁣ ⁣ Long story short, we got to Belgrade and the country was COMPLETELY open, no masks necessary. A month later everything shut down again after elections. Politics... We all went back into quarantine because we’re with my dad and he’s high risk. He already had pneumonia this year. 10 days into the strict quarantine - and I mean strict, we didn’t go outside of the property - my toddler got symptoms of a flu - swiftly followed by the rest of us. Turns out a lot of people in Belgrade caught it, she must have caught it at the playground.⁣ ⁣ Dad’s doctor immediately told us it was covid and I full on didn’t believe him for 2 weeks. It was too mild for me, I thought. During that two week period I had symptoms like nausea, bloating, diarrhea, stuffy nose, puffy face, skin breakouts, muscle weakness, a few days of a slight temperature and a very very slight wheeze for two days. Not the worst virus I’ve had in the last year, although the symptoms lasted longer - off and on for 18 days and there’s still lingering bloating. ⁣ ⁣ My dad caught it too and he didn’t have many symptoms either. When they did a CT scan they said 40 percent of his lungs were affected, however his breathing was fine. They treated him just incase. The meds dad was put on to treat it seemed to be harsher than the actual virus, he’s okay now too.⁣ ⁣ I used to be an “at risk person”. I was on immune suppressants, I’ve had bronchitis at least 12 times, pneumonia 3x and I’ve been hospitalized for it once. I still stand by my previous complaints about locking down countries.⁣ ⁣ I’m sorry to anyone who has experienced a worse case of the virus or who has lost anyone to it. That’s miserable. So is suicide from lockdown anxiety and lifelong neuroticism from children growing up in a lockdown though 🙃. ⁣ ⁣ Perhaps if we focused on making people healthier the world wouldn’t be so screwed up by a virus that doesn’t really kill healthy people... yikes, I went there. Video of the experience on YouTube.

A post shared by  Mikhaila Peterson (@mikhailapeterson) on

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Since last year, all updates regarding Peterson's health have come from his daughter. 

The last time he was seen was on Mikhaila's YouTube channel in June, reflecting on the last year of his life. He appeared coherent and in relatively good health, but that was before his COVID-19 diagnosis. 

Last week, Mikhaila told The Sun: "He’ll get better, but he’s definitely taken a step back and it’s just really unfortunate... it’s been a disaster.

"Now we’ve had a step back in his recovery. Life is just not good, things are not good right now."

It is unclear when or if Peterson will make a return to public life. 

While some have revelled in the schadenfreude of watching a man who lectured millions on how to live their lives, have his somewhat fall apart, surely that is not the lesson to be learned from Peterson.

Like all of us – Peterson is a man of contradictions. But the sentiment that we should all make our beds, stand up straight with our shoulders back, and refuse to let pain turn us into monsters is ultimately useful. And the fact that Peterson is unwell due to a physical dependency on anti-anxiety medication doesn't make it any less so. 

In the same breath, though, it's worth remembering that there will be days when we cannot make our beds. When it's impossible to stand, let alone with our shoulders back. And sometimes, pain will – briefly – turn us into monsters. 

Sometimes life is cruel and circumstance cripples us. 

But wasn't that Peterson's point all along? 

Feature Image: Getty.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

For more: Jordan Peterson has a problem with women.

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