Well, thank you for being patient. I know we’ve put you off for a long time. That couldn’t be helped. But I’m actually very happy to be doing this. And I was, weirdly enough, I didn’t expect it, but I was looking forward to it.
Really? I wasn’t sure how do you feel about it. Is there an element of trepidation? Or?
Well, definitely, there’s an element of trepidation because I would say the most stressful experiences I’ve had in the last five years, apart from being in the epicenter of various demonstrations, were definitely interviews with people who were well, they ranged from mildly hostile to very hostile. And those are tight ropes, you know, because if you make a mistake, well, it can be devastating; devastating to your career devastating to your family, devastating to your general reputation. So, tightrope.
I think most people watching you thought that you are completely fearless, kind of cool as a cucumber, unfazed by any amount of attacks.
Yeah, that’s wrong.
Oh, yeah, that’s definitely wrong. No, I definitely found the interviews, of all the things I did, as I said, apart from the demonstrations. You know, having your name- being cursed at and being chanted at by several hundred angry people is not anyone’s idea of fun, especially if the attack continues afterward, which happened on multiple occasions. But I don’t think that was worse than the more hostile interviews. I really don’t like upsetting people.
That’s interesting. Again, I think that’s not something that people would imagine.
Well, I am a clinical psychologist, it’s not really- it’s in my nature to help people, I would say. You know, I have a hierarchy of belief, in some sense. I’m not going to say things I don’t believe to be true, to spare anyone’s feelings, although I would pick a truth that spared feelings the maximal allowable amount if I could do that. But I’m not interested in generating controversy. See, it’s a funny thing because I’ve learned over the years, and this is, again, in large part, because I’m a clinical psychologist, is that a little conflict in the present can save an awful lot of catastrophe later. And people are very much likely to sidestep a problem, in the hopes that it will go away. And I know that problems don’t go away. They never go away. What they do is they multiply. They fester and multiply. And so I will have the fight now, knowing that it’s inevitable later. I mean, I always conducted myself that way within our family, as Mikhaila can attest to. Both Tammy and I never allowed anything to sit unspoken under the rug, and so we’d have our uncomfortable conversations, but you know, I’d sweat my way through them. I don’t enjoy them by any stretch of the imagination. But I can see the inevitable coming and I’m not going to allow that to happen without trying to make a difference.
Do you think it’s the case that most people have the wrong impression of who you are or what you’re like as a person? You know, I actually … every week, and some people have a sense that how big their image is, is absolutely accurate, and others who feel that there are huge misconceptions about who they are. Where do you sit on that?
Okay, well, first, we have a bad audio situation. So you’re echoing, you’re echoing a lot. So we should fix that, because- well, I’ll go ahead and answer the last question while we’re waiting. I feel- I believe that I’m misunderstood by the people who want to misunderstand me. I think that by and large, that people have a good idea of who I am, and by and large, that image is positive. In fact, it’s positive to the point where I find it very difficult to believe. I mean, for example, I just finished a podcast with Matthew McConaughey on Sunday. And the YouTube comments, there’s about a million people have watched it already, and so that’s something in and of itself, but the comments are unbelievably positive. Like they’re heartbreakingly positive, and the like to dislike ratio is running about 99 to one. And that’s a little better than typical, but usually, it’s between 50 and 100, or 50 and 99 to one. And usually, the YouTube comments are overwhelmingly positive, and that’s certainly been the case while I’ve been ill, and while my wife was ill. And so, you know, you might quibble and say that people have an impression of me, that’s too positive, but if I had to have a problem, that would be a good problem.
I think that my reputation suffers among those for whom it’s convenient to assume things about me that aren’t the least bit true, like that I’m alt-right, for example, in my proclivities either overtly, or covertly, or that my followers can be easily categorized in that manner; first, that I have followers, second, that they can be categorized in that manner. And none of that’s true. Those aren’t my political leanings, I’m not temperamentally inclined to any extreme viewpoint, and in fact, find them abhorrent. I’ve spent my whole life studying extreme political views, since I was 18, essentially. And my listeners, and viewers, and readers are on YouTube, they’re primarily male, but my book “12 Rules for Life” sold between 4.5 and 5 million copies now, and it’s not young, angry men who are buying that. All you have to do is scroll through the YouTube comments on a popular video, and you can see that, and almost none of the discussion is political. When I did my tour for the book, it wasn’t a political tour, I’m a psychologist, and I’m happy about that. I’m comfortable with that. And when I’ve had to make a choice in my life between being political overtly and staying working as a psychologist, I’ve always chosen the latter.
Can I ask you a question? Do you carry this enormous sense of pressure of their expectations on you to be able to encourage them or guide them? Does that feel like a big pressure?
Well, it feels like a big responsibility. But I can’t- It’s an overwhelming responsibility and it’s very surprising. It’s hard to believe, it’s surreal. It’s always surreal. And it’s so universal. I mean, I was in Serbia for months, not so long ago, and it’s the same there, it’s the same everywhere I’ve gone. If it’s an airport or a cafe, or it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it’s everywhere in the world. I mean, I think I’ve looked at my YouTube views, and I think my YouTube videos, including the interviews, have been viewed at least 600 million times. And so it’s a scale of exposure that’s, well, I mean, it’s not unparalleled because there are no shortage of famous people, but it’s unparalleled- it’s certainly unparalleled for me. But there’s also this international element to it that’s also new, you know. YouTube is a universal media platform and it’s so powerful that it’s unbelievable. And if you put yourself in its clutches, then well, most of the time, nothing will happen, but sometimes there’s a tremendous explosion. I mean, it’s not surprising to me in some ways, you know. I knew, when I was working on my first book “Maps of Meaning”, that I was dealing with things that were fundamental. I knew, I mean, I knew insofar as my sense of knowing is reliable, but generally, it’s been reliable, I can tell when I’m onto something. And I knew I was dealing with things that were fundamental. And I watched the effect of my lectures when I was a university professor on my students, and most of the students who I taught said the most common response to my classes was that it changed their life. It changed the way they looked at everything. And that was my experience, having learned and thought through the- what I learned and thought through when I wrote “Maps of Meaning”, it changed the way I looked at everything. So, I could see this coming because as my reach expanded electronically, that sort of response continued to occur. But YouTube magnified that in a way that’s well, it’s a lot to adapt to. You know, I mean, when all this hit me, I was already 55 or there or something, you know, and I’d labored under relative obscurity. That’s been made more of than is really the case because my classes were always popular, and so I had a certain renown at the university as a teacher, and I had done some TV work for about 10 years, really, before I made the first couple of videos that went viral. But I’d also set up the YouTube channel a couple of years before that, and it was accruing views not at an exponentially growing rate, but, you know, there were still tens of thousands of people watching, and that’s not trivial. But the response- you asked me about responsibility.
I certainly felt that when I have been ill over the last year. I mean, I thought it was one of the things that really kept me alive. And I suppose it shaped my next book because I tried only to- the illness and the responsibility, I tried only to keep words that I found sustaining during that period of time, but part of the reason that I stayed alive was because I felt overwhelming responsibility to all the people who had been, you know, affected by my work. I thought, well, it wouldn’t go very well if I just expired somewhat melodramatically, in the middle of Russia and middle of Serbia. And so it was responsibility, but also tremendous support. You know, it’s quite something to be in despair and to have thousands of people wishing you well. And that’s been my experience, overall, is that the proportion of people who have been supportive to me and my family, compared to the proportion of people who’ve been antagonistic, there’s no comparison. It’s not like the antagonism is trivial, and I don’t- it hits me. I think it hits everyone in the family. I mean, Mikhaila has taken a lot of flack for squirreling me away in Russia, and in Serbia, and, you know, profiting from my corpse, so to speak. And that’s been hard on her because, like, the rest of my family, she put a lot on the line to help me and that is the case for many members of my family.
But, you know, she was certainly the primary mover of all this from the public perspective and took a lot of flack for it, and that’s been hard on her. So the negative is salient, but the positive is overwhelming. And that was certainly the case on the tour, which was a delight in many ways because it was so unbelievably positive. Where there’s thousands of people who are gathering together on a regular basis, different people in all these different cities, who were there fundamentally because they wanted to get their lives together. You know, the way that was treated by the people that were antagonistic to me was exactly what you’d predict if you gave some credence to their cynicism. You know, that it was a political ploy, or that I was exploiting people or they have no- and that would be mostly the radical identity politics types who, you know, who have no love lost for me and vice versa. It wasn’t in their worldview that people could gather together like that because they wanted to improve. But that was the case.
… of 2018. By that point, most of your life has kind of become unrecognizably huge, and you’re going on the book tour. To what extent was your mental health an issue for you during that year? I think you said to Joe Rogan that one of the worst days of your life was days like Sam Harris…
Oh, yeah. Jesus. God, that first discussion I had with Sam Harris. Oh, man, it was just- well, I don’t think it’s a mental health issue.
I think it’s a physical health issue. I have an autoimmune disorder of some sort, and it has multiple symptoms. One of the symptoms is depression. And, you know, it’s not really a classic depression because I don’t have the classic cognitive symptoms. I’ve never felt that my life wasn’t worth living. I felt that I was in so much pain that I didn’t know if I could continue to exist. Or that I-
With the pain, can you elaborate on that word pain? Because that can mean so many different things.
Well, it would depend on the particulars of the circumstances, I suppose, but depression is a pain-like phenomenon. If you’re depressed, much of the cortical circuitry that mediates pain response, like a physical pain response, is activated. Many people with depression have pain syndromes like lower back pain is very common among people who are depressed. So it is a pain symptom- it is a pain syndrome. I guess the depression I experienced, which is characteristic of many people in my family, was grief-like, I would say. It felt like overwhelming grief. And it was worse in the morning and would recede during the day, but it seemed to be part of a cluster of symptoms that were autoimmune in nature. And much depression is autoimmune in nature. So I think of it as- I think it’s a physical illness as far as I can tell.
When I talked to Sam Harris- it’s very complicated, and I’m still trying to piece all of this together, but I had gone to see my family, my extended family on my wife’s side, and Mikhaila and her husband, and me, both- all of us came down with the same symptom set that lasted about three weeks, and it was absolutely terrible. I couldn’t get up without fainting. I’d faint, fall to the floor, gray out, not blackout completely, but gray out every time I got up. I couldn’t get warm. I was wearing multiple layers of clothes and multiple layers of blankets, and I couldn’t get warm. I had an overwhelming sense of doom and anxiety, and I didn’t want to move, and plus I couldn’t sleep for days and days. I don’t- I was without sleep for many weeks. And you know-
And this was from inadvertently ingesting apple cider?
Look, that’s- that’s-
It wasn’t. No. Hold on.
There were, no doubt, multiple-
Hold up. It wasn’t apple cider. It was sodium metabisulfite in apple cider. Like the alcoholic apple cider was added to a stew.
So it was sodium metabisulfite in that apple cider, but it wasn’t apple cider.
Right, I understand.
Anyways, in the midst of that, which was- in the midst of that, I talked to Sam Harris and I was operating at about 5% of my normal capacity if that. It was terrible. But you know, I wasn’t going to forego the opportunity because it was a necessary discussion. Now, I was nowhere near- I wasn’t- I wasn’t at my sharpest, and you can certainly tell that in the interview. You know, I couldn’t respond rapidly. My normal quickness of wit, to what degree I possess that, was certainly absent in that first discussion with Sam. But it turned out that that was- it worked out all right because we had another discussion and overall, and you know, then I had these public debates with Sam too that really- I think we had 10,000 people at the Orpheum in London. It turned into something that neither of us would have possibly imagined. I don’t know if there’s ever- I don’t know if there’s ever been a larger public debate, certainly not on that kind of issue. You know, and who would have known that would become something that was so popular that it was somewhat of a cultural event. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to claim that.
So you were prescribed benzodiazepines as a result of that incident.
Yes, and a sleeping pill.
Were you prescribed that by your family doctor? Were you at all worried? Did some alarm buzz worrying about women in the 50s and 60s who got hooked on valium and couldn’t get off it?
Well, look, when benzodiazepines were first introduced, they were touted as an almost completely safe replacement for barbiturates. I really didn’t give it a second thought what happened was well, partly I was- you know, my life was an absolute whirlwind at that time. So if it had been an item of concern, it fell, you know, to number 20 on a list of 20, and only one through 10 ever got attended to. You know, at the time that I had this terrible reaction, other things were happening. The Canadian equivalent of the IRS was after me and making my life miserable for something they admitted was a mistake three months later, but they were just torturing me to death. The College of psychologists that I belong to was after me because one of my clients had put forth a whole sequence of specious allegations because the person was upset that I had sort of disappeared over the Christmas vacation, so that was extraordinarily stressful. It wasn’t clear to me whether my job was going to continue. So you know, there were other issues. Plus, I was at the epicenter of this incredible controversy, and there were journalists around me constantly and students demonstrating and it was a very hectic time. In any case, I took the benzodiazepines. I didn’t take the sleeping pills, I think I took them two or three times and just stopped. But the benzodiazepines allowed me to sleep again and it was a very stressful time, and I just- they were prescribed for two a day, and I just took them. It wasn’t like I was- I couldn’t feel them. They weren’t- I wasn’t taking a high enough dose so that I could actually detect the effects of the sedation. They weren’t sedating me at all. They just stopped whatever had happened to me, which I still don’t really understand. You know, we have a hypothesis that it was a reaction to- allergic reaction to the chemical that Mikhaila described, but it was strange that the three of us were affected by it, and no one else as well. Anyhow. Well, in any case,
That’s what Dave- that’s what the psychiatrist said, is that when you go off of SSRIs, you can be neurologically sensitive to chemicals.
Yeah, well, that’s reasonable-
And I was probably-
It’s not our theory, like…
Yeah, that doesn’t give it enough credit. Like, there are doctors involved here.
No, it’s not like- Yes, and many of them. It’s not like we’ve been sitting around armchair hypothesizing about what happened. We’ve consulted many people to try to figure this out.
And you had, by that point, come off SSRIs because of the diet, is that right? Because the efficacy of the diet.
Yes. And the diet did a lot of different things, had a lot of different effects on me. One of the most market effects immediately was that I stopped snoring, and that happened within a week. It was very, very surprising to me. And then I had psoriasis and that cleared up, and I had gum disease, and that cleared up which is- that’s not curable, gum disease, so it’s treatable, but not curable, but it’s completely cleared up. And I lost 70 pounds over about a seven month period. So the transformation was remarkable. And I’ve had other autoimmune symptoms in my life. I had alopecia areata at one point and thought I was going to lose all my hair, but luckily that stopped. And I had this condition called peripheral uveitis, which is an inflammation in the tissue of the eye, and markers on my fingernails for autoimmune- like an autoimmune condition, your body attacks its own cells, and I had markers for that as well. And I have had a lengthy history of mouth ulcers…
There’s never been a formal diagnosis of the nature of your autoimmune disorder?
There was, twice within the last year.
In Russia and in Serbia because they did blood tests. Dad?
Yep, I’m back.
In Russia- They never pinpointed what it was. In Russia, it was fibromyalgia, and in Serbia, they thought fibromyalgia but it was from blood markers, and so they were going based on blood markers and symptoms and put fibromyalgia on it.
Yeah, and I mean, these autoimmune conditions aren’t very well understood, and fibromyalgia is a good example of that. It’s terra incognita.
Um, so the benzodiazepines seemed to help sort of resolve that issue, but you talked about how- I’ve read you talking about how you felt that it kind of muted somewhat, your relationships with people.
It was a very confusing, it was a very confusing time, you know because a lot of what was happening to me was also, in some sense, alienating me from myself and my family because it was so different from what had happened before. So trying to discriminate between the strange and surreal conditions of my life and the effect of this drug, I never thought about the drug having any effect on me with regards to this muting, and for quite a long time. And well, I also started to get kind of weak on my left side, and I kind of thought at that point that the benzodiazepine might have had something to do with it, but wasn’t sure. And that thought would just come up now and then and I complained about it, that I had a weakness in my musculature on the left side. But I never thought much of it. And I wasn’t that worried. I wasn’t thinking about the benzodiazepines like 10 hours a day or anything like that. I never thought about it at all. I was extraordinarily busy 16 hours a day flat out, seven days a week for- right until Tammy went into the hospital- right until Mikhaila went into the hospital in January of 2019. It was flat out running. And so I wasn’t sitting around thinking about what was happening with me. You know, if I was a bit off, well, so was my life. It wasn’t exactly surprising that all of this might have had some effect on my relationships. That was subtle anyways, I mean, we talked about it, you know, the kids would tell me that I was distant. But that’s not a five-alarm fire bell, being somewhat distant, especially under strange circumstances, including visiting 160 cities in 200 days.
And I was functioning, obviously, I mean, I gave a different lecture every night.
Were you enjoying yourself?
Yeah, it was amazing.
It was amazing. I don’t think enjoying myself doesn’t really cover it. It was…
the best year of your life?
dream-like. Um, I wouldn’t necessarily say that, I’ve had some pretty good years. It was surreal, but it was surreal in a way that was also- see, one of the markers for post-traumatic stress disorder is derealization, right? When the things around you don’t seem real. And I was in a constant state of derealization, from October 2016, October 2016, till January 12, of 2021.
Go on, explain.
Well, I didn’t- I still don’t really have the- I
I’ll give you an example. So one day, this would have been in 2017, probably, and so things haven’t got as busy as they were going to get. 200 of my colleagues signed a petition at the University of Toronto to have me removed from my tenured position and my faculty association. So an association to which I belong forwarded that to the administration without even notifying me. My son came over to talk to me and I said, “Julian, um, you know, 200 of my colleagues just signed a petition asking for my removal from the University of Toronto faculty.” And he said, “Oh, Dad, don’t worry about that. It’s only 200 people.” And we had got to the point, by that time, where that sort of event was, well, produced exactly the kind of response he had. Like, under normal circumstances, I believe, for anyone who’s employed by an organization, the news that 200 of their colleagues have conspired inappropriately to bring about their demise would be enough to rattle them for, to rattle them into silence permanently, instantly. And for us, that was barely noticeable as a blip on the horizon, given everything else that was going on. And as it turned out, it had absolutely no effect. Maybe a somewhat negative effect in terms of the reputation of the university, but no effect on me.
No practical effect. But do you think it had a kind of residual effect, you’re talking about derealization and PTSD, that these kinds…
Oh, all of this has a
I still really don’t have a proper conceptual framework in which to slot all this.
It’s not an easy thing to understand. I don’t know what to make of it. What should I make of the fact that I have 600 million views on YouTube? What do you make of that?
I mean, on the one hand, like I said, I knew that I was dealing with things that were fundamental when I was writing “Maps of Meaning”. And I watched the effect of what I had learned on my students. And that grew across time, it continued to grow in a linear fashion. And so in some sense, that’s not that surprising because all the ideas in “Maps of Meaning”, which is really where I’ve derived most of the ideas, or many of the ideas for my book 12 Rules, and for the new one, you know, I studied people whose work I thought was profound and was able to integrate that and to disseminate it. And so the fact that profound thoughts had effects on people isn’t that surprising. And I’m not saying that they were my thoughts because “Maps of Meaning” has a very lengthy bibliography, and I use ideas that towering intellects had generated. Many of them psychologists, and so the fact that they had a powerful psychological effect, makes sense. It’s still something to be the messenger, even if you’re not necessarily the originator. So that part wasn’t a surprise in some ways, but the magnitude of the response has been, and the nature of the response, the emotional nature of the response, has been continually amazing.
You know, when I was visiting Tammy in the hospital, well, and then, you know, not only did all of these things occur on the social front, you got to think about it this way. You know, I’ve watched people respond to being attacked on Twitter. So they’ll post something or write a paper and 20 people will go after them on Twitter, and that’ll produce a bit of a storm, and they usually apologize profusely, and back the hell off, and disappear. It’s really, really emotionally hard on people to be attacked publicly like that. And that happened to me continually for like three years and on a way larger scale than 20 people. You know, I mean, just the events at Wilfrid Laurier University with Lindsay Shepard, that was the biggest scandal that hit a Canadian university, certainly in my lifetime. And that was just- that was a sideshow. And I’m not making light of it. It wasn’t a trivial occurrence. But it was just one of dozens of things that were happening on a regular basis. The demonstration at Queen’s University when I went there to talk with Bruce Party, a lawyer there, I mean, you know, we were in a building with 200-250 students, 300 students, I don’t know, and the protesters were outside at the windows banging on the windows, breaking them in one case, it was completely surreal. It was like a zombie attack.
Were you be frightened by any of this? Was any bit frightening?
I guess I’d have- Yes, I would say, definitely. I was never concerned for my- I wasn’t concerned for my life. I wasn’t concerned for my physical safety. I was concerned for my family. I was concerned for my reputation. I was concerned for my occupation, both as a clinical psychologist because I was under attack at the College of psychologists as well as at the university. So and then there were times where I was physically threatened. Certainly, that happened at Queen’s University, they arrested a woman who was carrying a garrote, for God’s sake. You know, and I was harassed directly after the demonstration there by a, you know, a small coterie of insane protesters. Let’s say committed protesters, who were in my face for two blocks, three blocks yelling and screaming. My son was with me and you know, the University security guards, they didn’t know what to do. They weren’t trained for that sort of thing. And I was very- I was, I wouldn’t say I was so much afraid, I was very angry. Like, it took everything I could not to knock the man, who was in my face, flat. But I wasn’t going to do that. I was enraged by what he was doing. And
How did you- What was your demeanor while that was going on?
Calm and watchful. I mean, one of the advantages I have had is that I am a clinical psychologist, you know, and I can detach myself from what’s happening and watch it. And that’s partly when I’m being interviewed by someone who’s hostile, I’m able to keep my cool. It’s partly because I can watch and also partly because I know that what’s happening right now isn’t the whole story. It’s especially true in the modern world with an interview, it’s like, the interview can be very hostile, and that, by no means, means that I’m under attack. It just feels like that in the moment, like with the interview with Cathy Newman, for example, on Channel Four, or there was another interview done by a woman who works for GQ, which, I think-
Yeah, it’s been viewed 22 million times, I believe at the moment. So it’s just under the Cathy Newman video in terms of number of viewers. That was a very, very animus-possessed interview, she was on my case right from the moment I walked into the room, essentially. And-
Presumably you knew that would be the case? Helen Lewis is very established feminist, professional feminist.
Well, I didn’t know that it would be the case. At that time I was being interviewed so often that I never had any time to prepare for the interview. I just walked into them, and I assumed, at least that there would be, you know, common professional courtesy. And most of the time, that was the case. It was certainly the case with Cathy Newman, who was very professionally polite when we first met in the green room, and then well, and then isn’t- and then went on the attack, I suppose when she was interviewing me. But both of those interviews, the tide turned, you know, it was very, very strange with the Cathy Newman interview because first of all, people were rather sympathetic to me, and then she reported being harassed, especially online. And then so the sympathy sort of moved over to her side of the equation, let’s say, and then, for one reason or another, it shifted back to me.
Did you enjoy them in real-time during those two hours with Helen, nearly, and half an hour with Cathy?
Not in the least.
Did you enjoy a second of it?
No. Oh, yes, with Cathy, I enjoyed a second of it.
Well, when she stopped- when I- See, there was one point where she was reduced to silence. And I’d asked her a very serious question, which was why she thought it was okay to go after me for making people uncomfortable with my opinions when it was okay for her to go after me and make me as uncomfortable as possible in this particular scenario. And she had no answer to that. And she had no answer to that because she knew perfectly well that she was being hypocritical. And she stumbled and stopped speaking, and I said, “Gotcha.” And I enjoyed that. And I thought, like, in that half a second, I thought long and hard about whether or not I was going to say that. I knew it would be funny, and I do have a sense of humor, although it’s rather suppressed, it’s been rather suppressed over the last couple of years.
And I took a calculated risk and I would say that I enjoyed that because the timing was right. And-
It paid off. But it..
But it was a risk, man, it could have easily gone badly.
Right. Your son said you’ve withstood all kinds of pressures and stresses, and navigated an extraordinary roller coaster, and kind of kept it all together and handled it up until 2019 when your wife is in hospital and being given this devastating news.
Well, 2019 was, you know, it was just- it started out rough.
I went to Switzerland, and I was in Switzerland with Mikhaila for well, for a number of weeks when she was having her ankle rebuilt by carpenters. I mean, it was very dramatic surgery. And the outcome wasn’t obvious, she could have easily lost her leg and lots of people that she talked to suggested that that would be the case. And so it was strange to set up camp in Zurich, and to bring her food, and to take care of her. And then we went to Australia for a whirlwind tour in February, and that went quite nicely. And then things just fell apart insanely with Tammy, you know, it was just every bloody day was a life and death crisis for like five months. And initially, we were informed that her illness was highly treatable and minor. And, you know, just in a typical cliched movie scene, we went to see the doctor after she had had her surgery, but wasn’t recovering quite properly, and they said, “Well, she’s contracted this cancer that’s so rare, there’s virtually no literature on it, and the one-year fatality rate was 100%.” And that was just the beginning of, you know, endless nights sleeping on the floor in emergency, and continual surgical complications, and then, you know, my mood was wavering at that point. I was taking a bit more of a benzodiazepine under still being supervised by my GP, but I started to react to it in a paradoxical manner. It seemed to be making me more anxious rather than less and I tried various- and my depression seemed to be making a comeback, so I tried various means of dealing with that. But it just got worse and worse, and at one point, I stopped taking the benzodiazepine altogether. And that-
What happened when you did that?
I developed this condition called akathisia, which I didn’t know about at that point. Yes, and let me tell you, you wouldn’t wish that on- it’s unbearable, to say the least. And, you know, they say with akathisia, people are driven to suicidality within an hour of the onset of the symptoms. I had akathisia for 800 hours, 900 hours, thousand hours, sometimes seven hours a day.
What did it feel like?
Well, imagine that- so imagine- I just figured this out, a way to communicate it, to some degree, properly in the last couple of days. So imagine that someone jabbed you really hard in the ribs with their fingers, and stiff fingers, you know, you’d kind of pull away and then there’d be a spasm from that, and you’d move. Well, then imagine that’s happening 50 times, and every time you breathe. That’s sort of what it’s like.
…physical pain and discomfort.
Yeah, yeah, and it doesn’t go away. It’s just there, and it’s there, and it’s there, and it’s there, and every time you breathe, it’s there. You can’t sit. And you know, I couldn’t sit down. I’ve been able to start sitting down again, in the last month.
You and I could not have had a conversation like this, where we’re just talking to each other and…
I might have been able to do it. It would recede to some degree as the day went on. It was way worse in the morning and would get better in the evening. So it would have depended on the time of day, but certainly, even now, I really don’t get going until two o’clock or so in the afternoon.
My morning schedule is still very, very rigid. But it’s-
Yes, it’s unbearable, the sensation. And it’s also humiliating because it’s a voluntary movement disorder. And so what that means is that it feels like you’re doing it, and I could also control it. So if it was happening, and I was twisting, and moving, and walking around in my bedroom, uncontrollably, thousands and thousands of times, if one of the people who were caring for me, a nurse or a doctor said, “Well, can you stop it?” I could, I could stop it. Although I had a hard time stopping the effect in the breathing.
It’s not voluntary. One of the symptoms of akathisia is that it feels voluntary. This is in akathisia. So one of the torturous things about it is it feels voluntary. There are other like psych side effects as well where it can feel voluntary.
And you can stop, at least, briefly. Well, yeah, there’s a disorder called dyskinesia where you move but you don’t even know you’re moving. So it’s an uncontrollable movement disorder, but it’s involuntary. It doesn’t affect the voluntary motor system. But akathisia does and so there’s always the sense that you could stop it if you just exercised enough willpower. So it’s humiliating as well.
And does that also generate a kind of self-punishing dynamic in your head that you’re angry with yourself?
Disgusted, I would say more than angry,
Disgusted? Where you feel as if you’re being kind of grotesque, and ridiculous, and weak? Is it, or?
Yes, definitely. It’s not only that you feel like you’re being that it’s that is the situation, or that’s certainly how it appears. Grotesque for sure.
And did you feel incredibly self-conscious about it and being seen?
After a while, I just, like, being self-conscious, it was so awful, that being self- the problem of being self-conscious fell way down the- if you’re in enough pain, you’re no longer self-conscious. It’s there but it’s- I shouldn’t say that you’re still self-conscious, but that problem is so- it’s trivial compared to the pain. It was horrible. I mean, that’s the other thing that’s so strange about this, and that’s also made this surreal, is that I’m actually a very private person. Prior to all this, I never discussed my own personal affairs with anyone, I never talking about my illness. I don’t talk about how I’m doing. I have done that with depression to some degree because I thought there was a public service element in it, you know because my family has battled it for a very long time. And I felt that some public disclosure of that would perform a reasonable public health function. But other than that, I’m not inclined towards personal self-disclosure, and certainly not on a mass scale. So that’s also been very strange to have all of this be so public over the last two years. Saying that, you know, brings up a wave of disbelief that that can be the case, that’s actually…
Is it a panicky wave or is it just incredulity?
Now, I think it’s mostly just incredulity.
Say, you tried to get treated twice in North America, first, in the eastern seaboard and then in Toronto.
Yeah, that just didn’t work at all.
Do you even remember much about those two?
I don’t remember anything about Toronto.
Nothing about Toronto.
From December 16th to February 5th, I don’t- of 2020, the end of 2019, the beginning of 2020, I don’t remember anything at all.
Do you think you even- Did you know that you were being- that you were flying to Moscow to be put into a coma
In real-time you were fully aware of it, but you’ve got no memory of it now?
That’s right. Yep.
I mean, obviously, what lots of people would say is, well, this is- obviously, I’ve talked to various people about this, and everyone says, “Why on earth would a high-profile North American…”
I went to the best treatment clinic in North America and Connecticut and all they did was make it worse. We were out of options. We were out of options. The judgment of my family was that I was likely going to die in Toronto. And so there was no-
You were going to die in Toronto. Again, lots of people would say, “Why would you sort of trust the judgment, although your family members love you, they’re not trained, qualified medics? Why would you? Why would you put yourself in their hands and not the medical profession’s hands?”
I had put myself in the hands of the medical profession and the consequence of that was that I was going to die. And we put ourself in the hands of medical professionals in Russia, too. So it wasn’t like we were fleeing, completely fleeing from the medical profession. I tried a slow taper on the benzodiazepines, and I couldn’t do it.
You know, and I went to the treatment clinic on the eastern seaboard, and they had promised, essentially, a 12-week treatment program. And my impression of that was that at the end of that 12-week period, I would be free of benzodiazepines, but that isn’t how it worked out at all. And I was on more medication when I left that treatment center than I was when I went in.
Were you angry with them? Were you arguing with them?
There was no point in being angry, otherwise, it wouldn’t be helpful. I was disappointed. I mean, when I went there, to begin with, right at admission, they basically told me that the 12-week program was unlikely to be successful. And I thought, “Oh, this is a hell of a time to be informing me of that since I’ve just come down from Toronto.” But by that time, I was well, there wasn’t any alternatives at that point. So, you know, I was in sufficiently dire state, so that wasn’t tenable for me to maintain my residence.
The clinic you went to in Moscow, they’re more familiar with doing a kind of induced coma to have sort of a speedy withdrawal from opiates rather than benzodiazepines. Is that right?
Mikhaila would probably be better able to answer that than me.
I suppose, again one of the things that people absolutely associate you with is that you are meticulous about following the data. You know, it’s almost a kind of Peterson catchphrase, “There’s no evidence for that”, you know, you’re very much an evidence-based person. What was the evidence that you saw that was so compelling and overwhelming to take you to Moscow?
I couldn’t do the- I couldn’t tolerate the gradual taper, so it was the only other alternative. That’s all. It wasn’t that it was compelling. It was that we were out of options.
Yeah, the treatment I received on the eastern coast and in Toronto didn’t help, made it worse.
So we didn’t have any other options
What were you most frightened at that point? I know Mikhaila talked about your anxiety levels.
I was most afraid of akathisia. Like, there isn’t anything else that- like, every day I had akathisia was the worst day of my life by a huge margin, not by some trivial amount, but by a huge margin. It was absolutely unbearable. I mean, I tried to describe it. It’s very difficult to describe, it’s like pain, but it’s a pain that you can’t- that only movement will satisfy. I mean, even now, I’m walking 10 miles a day.
Yes, yes, I heard.
The obvious thing the critics, your enemies, would say, I’m sure you- this is hard to get, even news to you will be, “Hold on a minute, you know, your entire intellectual framework, your philosophy of life is that life is about suffering, pain, and that the manly, strong, dignified thing to do is to accept that pain and suffering, and battle through it, and learn from it. And that the coward’s way out, is to try and take drugs to….”
No, I’ve never said that. I’ve never said that. And as a clinician, I mean, I’ve had many people in my practice. Look, if you’re a viable clinician, you encourage people to take psychiatric medication when it’s appropriate. And many people in my practice were helped, to a tremendous degree, by antidepressants. I was. They were unbelievably helpful to me, and to other members of my family. Not universally and not without a cost, but very, very helpful. And you know, that’s a caricatured viewpoint too. What I really encourage people to- what I encourage in people is the- it isn’t useful to allow your suffering to make you resentful even though you have reason for that. And so part of the battle, it’s a ridiculous caricature, that perspective. You know, life- people are hurt badly by their lives in all sorts of ways, and becoming bitter and resentful about that means that you start to cause extra suffering, in yourself, and in your family members, and in your community. That’s not helpful. It’s not helpful. And believe me, I mean, I’ve had plenty of temptation to become resentful about what’s happened to me in the last two years with my wife’s terrible illness, and well, with my daughter’s illness, first of all, and then with my wife’s illness, and then with mine, you know. And I’ve certainly had my moments where I thought- it was torturous because it was unbelievably torturous because I was in agony with an indeterminant prognosis, but certainly one that indicated that this would last for months and months, and only slowly recedes. Months and months, and perhaps years. I was shut off from my family, except for much of this time, and among strangers who didn’t speak my language. And at the same time, I was- I had this plethora of opportunities sitting in front of me, none of which I was able to access, like, I love my wife, and my kids, and my grandkids. It was like a nightmarish, surrealist novel. I had all this waiting for me, all this life I put together so carefully, and it was constantly dangled out of my reach. I was completely consciously aware of that. The condition I developed made it impossible for me to live at home. So I was divorced from my profession, from all the things that I was working on, and from everybody that I love. I had plenty of reason to become, like many people do, to become bitter. It’s not helpful.
When I watched the podcast that you did with Mikhaila, I thought you looked angry at moments, and I was wondering who or what you were angry with?
Well, pain will make you angry.
You know, so fate, I suppose. It was- I would say- well, we’ve had our health troubles in our family for the last few years, many years. And the last two years were surreal in that regard again, it was just too much. And so I was never, or very rarely, angry when I was in the hospitals. Never angry at the nurses or doctors, or very rarely.
Is there any bit of you that’s angry with yourself for taking benzodiazepines when now that you know how dangerous they are?
Angry. I wouldn’t say angry. It’s not like I failed to see the irony. That was another thing about this that made it quite- still continues to make it difficult to stomach. You know, should I have known better? Possibly.
I mean, I did do my thesis on alcoholism, although, you know-
This is- Hold up, hold up.
You had a side effect from a medication. Should you have known better, that benzodiazepines can cause akathisia in people who take SSRIs?
You didn’t have it like this- this wasn’t benzodiazepine dependency problem. This was akathisia side effect from psych meds.
Right. Yes, and no, I couldn’t have known that. Yes, that’s right.
I have to say, we have 10 minutes before we have to wrap up.
Yeah, I’m doing okay by the way.
Yeah, yeah, I know. But still- or mom will kill me.
So Decca, what else do you want to talk about?
I was curious about whether your resistive … Soviet critic where the irony was also not lost on you about ending up in Russia to have your life saved? How did you make sense of that? Does that just seem like one of the bizarre coincidences of life?
Yes, it’s, it’s- no, I don’t know how to make sense of that. I don’t know how to make sense of the fact that Tammy recovered the day of our 30th wedding anniversary, which is literally the case. The surgical complications that were threatening her life ended on that day, and she had told me a few months earlier that she would recover on our 30th wedding anniversary. Like, I don’t know how to make sense out of that. It was, it was- Yeah, I don’t know what to think about that. There’s lots of things I don’t know what to think about. The diet too has been a complete shock. So-
That’s been maintained throughout this whole process, the hospitals were all willing to feed you your diet. Is that right?
Well, I don’t know how willing they were, but that’s what happened.
That’s what happened. So I’m sure some people reading this are going to say, “This is all kind of pharmacological Flim Flam.” Surely to God, it’s much less complicated than all of this.
We have someone with a history of depression has lived through extraordinarily stressful, surreal, as you say, few years managing unimaginable pressures, and demands, and pace of life, and this has got nothing to do with medicine or pharmaceuticals. This is purely just about somebody cracking under the pressure of life. Is that a possibility that you’ve considered?
Well, there’s no doubt that.
They don’t know what akathisia is then.
That’s right. That’s the basic answer to that is that I didn’t develop akathisia until I stopped taking- tried to stop taking the benzodiazepines. So now, whether the- I don’t know- I can’t say what additional effect the pressure had on making me more susceptible to akathisia, for example, I don’t think anybody could answer that. And I certainly know that stress makes it worse. But stress makes everything worse so that’s not that helpful.
What’s causing you the greatest stress now?
Fear that the akathisia will come back.
I mean, I’ve had it five days.
Where are you at now?
Well, in the last 43 days I’ve had- in November, I had 26 akathisic days out of 31. And those would last- those episodes would last anywhere from five to seven hours. So that was just horrific. In December, I had five days I was akathisic, only. And in January, so far, none. Although it’s still lurking there, I can feel the pulse. Yeah, but I can keep it under control. Or it’s not intense enough to overwhelm me. I don’t want to claim- I don’t want to make any unwarranted moral claims about the effect of my will. It certainly seems that I am effortly suppressing the desire to move constantly, almost constantly. But that’s starting to recede and the mornings are still very, very, very difficult. But
When you say difficult, you mean difficult to get started, difficult to kind of get your brain into gear?
Well I get up and I start breakfast, and then I go and I have a sauna for an hour and a half, and then I’m in the shower, and I scrub myself for about 20 minutes. And I usually can hardly stand up at that point. And then I eat, and by the time I start to eat, then I’m starting to be- I can walk with- at a somewhat normal pace by then. And then I usually walk for anywhere between two and four hours. And then I can have- I’m beginning to have something resembling a productive day. My cognition is sharp enough now, again, so that I can, well, engage in an interview like this, for example, or I’ve been increasingly participating in podcasts, and that’s probably- that’s been the other thing that’s so difficult is my life was so bloody complicated that when it- when I stopped my occupational activities, it was very, very difficult to start them up again because it’s like jumping into a car that’s going 900 miles an hour. You know, I did a podcast with Matthew McConaughey on December 22, I think. It was released yesterday and something on the order of a million people, 1.2 million people, I think, have watched it by now. To jump back into my life is to jump back into that. There’s no simple entry point, and so that’s been a real problem. I haven’t known what to do. The other thing that happened to me, that was terrible in 2020, is that I had this terrible experience of time dilation. So when I first woke up in Russia, I was asking Mikhaila, when she’d come and visit me, I’d asked her what time it was 10 times in 10 minutes, assuming that something on the order of half an hour or an hour had gone by, since the last time I asked her. And so I had these torturous days that were like 100 times longer than they should have been. So that’s receded and now my days are- they last the proper amount of time. Yes, thank God-
How are you feeling about the prospect of the book coming out and all the demands that that entails and the opportunities that entails?
Well, I’m ambivalent about it because I’m ambivalent- I’m ambivalent about it. I can’t judge the book properly. I didn’t write it under optimal circumstances, to say the least. And so I’m unsure, I can’t tell- I can’t make an adequate judgment of its quality. I know- I believe that my capacity for editing wasn’t what it could be.
But that was offset, to some degree, by the fact that I was able to filter what I was writing through the lens of my illness and to eradicate everything that wasn’t sustaining for me while I was in such trouble.
It’s amazing to me that you were able to work on the book during that whole year.
If you would have seen me, believe me, it would have been more amazing. When I recorded the book, the audiobook in November, I was akathisic almost the entire time and so-
26 days in November, right? So how did you do it?
I would go well, I would go to the studio, virtually convulsing in the car, like unable to control my movements, unable to control my arms, unable to control my legs, thrashing about. And Tammy would drive me there or my son, and then the same thing would happen in the lobby. I was moving just frenetically, and then I’d get upstairs into the studio and force myself to sit down, and then force myself to not move for two hours and do the recording. I was- if you would have asked me to lay odds on the probability that I would live to finish the recording, I would have bet you ten to one that I wouldn’t have. But certainly, as well that I wouldn’t have been able to do the recording. But I did the recording. So it’s done. And it was the same with the book. I mean, I’ve had lots of support, you know, my family has supported me tremendously. And the professional staff that I’ve had the fortune to employ have helped me, and my viewers have supported me, and all of that’s helped a lot. And so-
And of those five days in December…
I can tell you why I did it, how I could do it. It was easy. The alternative was worse. You know, if I would have lost the book, I wouldn’t have had anything left. No job. No, no function, you know, and I’m- I like to work. And I’ve always tried to be- it’s like a game in some sense, I’ve always tried to be as productive as possible on as many fronts as possible simultaneously, and I’ve practiced that since I was in graduate school. And it’s a game, that constant challenge. You know, I first lost contact with my professional life probably when I went on the tour, but the tour, of course, filled in that gap. But then when I- I spent all my time in 2019 in the hospital with Tammy, and that disrupted my professional life completely, and then I got so sick, I couldn’t get it going again. And so that was
Hmm. But I had the book and so I’d, you know, I’d get to the point where I could sit a bit by three o’clock and I think, “Okay, I’m gonna sit and write,” and it was hellish. But the thought that I stop and that would fold up, and I’d have nothing, that was worse. And so you know, if you’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, at least you have your choice of demise. And so it was better to work than to not work. And that’s definitely the case. So that’s why to the degree that I can explain how I was able to manage it, I’m not going to talk about willpower or courage. I’m going to talk about the lesser of two evils.
Yeah, that makes sense. Um, we’ve only got a second. Let me ask you one question, and I just want to talk to you a little bit about recent news events. If you could turn back the clock five years, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t take benzodiazepines.
Are you angry with the doctor who prescribed them to you, who knew that you had already done already 15 years on SSRIs?
Look, um, he served- he was my daughter’s physician as well and he was very helpful to us for a large part of her trouble. And so it would have- no, I’m not angry with him. Maybe he should have known better, but maybe I should have known better too. And like, you know, he also- it wasn’t like I was consulting him every month. There was no reason. There was no reason to raise red flags. I was on a relatively moderate dose of benzodiazepine and it’s not like that’s rare, it’s unbelievably common. Now, it’s not good, as it turns out, the FDA put out warnings last fall, you know, stating quite clearly that these drugs shouldn’t be used for more than 10 days. But the FDA didn’t drive that message home until last fall. So those are the breaks, you know? And I’m not happy- and I don’t see how he could have- No, I don’t harbor any resentment towards him.
Just before we finish, can I just ask you a quick question about recent news events?
Sure, go right ahead.
I’m sure you’ve been as kind of gripped as the rest of us by events in Washington in the last couple of weeks. Um, obviously lots of people are now saying, “Actually, I’ve revised my opinion about Trump. I didn’t think he was dangerous. I didn’t think he was.” And you had certainly said quite … called him a liberal, and a moderate, no more of a demagogue than Reagan. Do you still feel that? Or have you similarly changed your view about him?
Well, I’m not really- when I’m looking at what’s happening in the United States in the last week, I’m not really thinking about it in terms of Trump. I’m thinking about it in terms of a positive feedback loop that’s developed between the radical left and the radical right. And that is something that I saw coming five years ago. You can put it at Trump’s feet, but it’s not helpful. I mean, obviously, he was the immediate catalyst for the horrible events that enveloped Washington, the inexcusable events that enveloped Washington. And perhaps it’ll all die down when Trump disappears, but I doubt it. And what I see- what’s happening is there’s a feud going on. And the feud is between the radicals on both sides of the political distribution, and the left will do something extreme and the right reacts, and the right will do something extreme and the left reacts. And the left blames the right and the right blames the left, and that’s of feud, and they’re both right. They can both point to incalculably stupid things that their opposites across the political spectrum have engaged in. The danger is that we won’t be able to dampen this down. Now, if Biden is wise, and I’m hoping that he is, he’ll dampen the positive feedback loop down. A system is in a positive feedback loop when it amplifies its own behavior. And that’s what’s happening. And that can easily get out of control. Biden now has sufficient political power so that he could emerge on the world stage as a genuinely moderate Democrat. He could leave the identity politics behind and rule in a Clinton-esque fashion. And that would be good. And we’ll see. I’m hoping he can manage that. But the American political situation is- it’s a robust country, and it’s been through worse, but there’s always the danger that things can spiral out of hand.
Are you more worried now than you were five years ago, four years ago?
No, I’m not actually. I think that all things considered, 2020 could have been a hell of a lot worse, politically, given the fact that there is a simultaneous pandemic. People are under an awful lot of stress. Everyone. They’re too isolated, they’re cut off from their family members, they’re under unbelievable economic strain, and they’re also susceptible to the paranoia-inducing influence of the bubbles that have emerged on social media. That technology is exacerbating people’s conspiratorial mindsets because they can find like-minded people and don’t encounter correction, it’s not good. But having said all that, we’re not doing too badly. You know, if we’re lucky, the vaccinations will proceed the pace, we’ll start to see a real decrease in the intensity of the epidemic by the end of March or the beginning of April, it’s not that far away. It’ll be mostly- the vaccinations will be universally accessible by September, and Biden will have proved to be intelligently moderate and cautious and will squeak through this. Now, that’s the most likely outcome, as far as I’m concerned. And it’s certainly the one that I’m hoping for. So, you know, my objections to the identity politics types were elicited, in large part because I thought that the continual pushing on the radical leftist front would wake up the sleeping right.
Until it came to pass.
Well, we’ll see, you know, I’m not going to say that that was accurate. I don’t know how awake the sleeping right is, you know? What happened in Washington was appalling, but it was also stupidly appalling. Thank God. You know, there was an element of farcical theater about it, and so that’s a relief, in some sense. Like, it’s much better to see stupidity than malevolence, than organized malevolence. I’m not saying there was no organized malevolence, there certainly was, but there was plenty of theatrical stupidity. And Trump is definitely egging that on, you know, and he’s divisive in that- very divisive in that manner.
Should he be impeached for that?
I think he should be ignored. That the best thing that could happen is that he would fade away. Impeachment will-
Well, I’m not claiming to be omniscient in these matters. But yes, I think that impeachment will just- God, he’s gone. What? Hang on a sec.
He’s gone in a week and the democrats can busy themselves with getting the goddamn vaccinations out. You know, Biden could be a successful president instantly, if he did nothing else but vaccinate 100 million people in the next three months. And there isn’t anything that’s anywhere near as important as that. And I’m hoping that what happened with Trump and his incitation, his inciting to protest, I’m hoping that’ll fade away and that wise people will allow it to do exactly that. I don’t think stoking the flames is a good idea. I’ve never thought that. That’s what’s- I can- from my perspective, I could see what was coming. Too much ideological nonsense. Too much identity politics. That’s why Trump was elected to begin with. The Democrats alienated their working-class voter base. They sacrificed their typical- the people that they had stood for decades on the altar of identity politics, and I know why that is too. The democrats don’t have any policymaking procedure. It’s not part of the political system, and so what that means is the radicals, who have a narrative, control the rudder because they have a narrative, and the centrists don’t. And this is absolutely clear. I’ve been to Washington many times now and watched it. So the centrists need a story. And there is a story, the story would be: peace and prosperity for all of us, low-cost energy, you know, an economic program that would benefit everyone, but maybe even most particularly the poor because inequality is a real problem. Inequality destabilizes societies, it’s clear. And so if you’re a right-winger or a left-winger, you have your reasons to control inequality. If you’re a right-winger, you control inequality because you don’t want your society to spiral out of control. And if you’re a left-winger, you control inequality because it’s unfair that the people at the bottom are suffering the way they are, the ones that stack up at zero. It’s an unbelievably deep problem, and cheap ideological solutions aren’t going to solve it. You know, inequality isn’t a function of capitalism. There’s no evidence for that whatsoever. And so, the continual attempts of the radical leftists to blame inequality on capitalism are self-defeating.
I was talking to Matt Ridley the other day, he wrote “The Rational Optimist” and a number of other books, you know, and one of the things you might derive from Matt’s books is that if you were truly concerned with the poor, and with the environment, you do everything you could to make the poor, as rich as possible, as fast as you possibly could. Because rich people can care about the environment. And the fastest way to lift poor people out of poverty is through free-market capitalism, clearly. And the evidence for that is quite pronounced. Since the Soviet Union collapsed, more people have been lifted out of poverty than in the entire course of human history before that. From 2000 to 2010, the number of people who are in absolute poverty in the world fell by half; the Chinese just announced its eradication last week. And by 2030, the UN predicts that there will be no absolute poverty anywhere in the world. So there are alternatives to this terrible ideological idiocy that’s threatening stability in places like the United States.
Anyways, look, I have faith in western democratic institutions. And the Americans have been through all sorts of upheavals in the past and come through with flying colors. I think the same thing will happen now. I pray that Biden keeps the radicals in his party under control. He has the mandate to do that. He was a moderate, he was elected as such, and there’s plenty of moderates in the democratic party that he could rely on. He doesn’t have to pander to the radicals. I’ve seen some evidence of that pandering already. It’s very unfortunate.
You look exactly like
We should wrap this up.
Otherwise, mom is going to wonder why we’ve been doing this for an hour and 40 minutes.
Okay. Okay. You said I look exactly like-
I was listening to speak, then that you would be eminently recognizable to anyone who’s ever followed you already, or? Just before we part, I’m curious. What, if in any way, do you think the experience of the last year has changed you as a person?
I have far more appreciation for the banality of the normal. You have no idea what a privilege it is to be able to sit down.
On that note. Thank you, I have to shut it down now.
So look, before we stop, Mikhaila, we should think about this. Decca, you should think about whether you got everything you wanted. I mean, I want this interview to be- I want you to be satisfied with this interview. And it’s obviously in my interest, as well as yours, that you’re satisfied with this interview. And so if you have other questions, if you think there are things that we haven’t talked about, if you think there are lacunae in our conversation, then let us know. Okay? We’ll make arrangements to talk to you again.
Fantastic. Thank you. I really appreciate it, all of you. Thank you.
Yeah, I guess I have one question for you, too. I think of all the things- I think it would be a mistake to tilt this discussion too much towards the details of my illness because the story here that hasn’t been told properly is the reason for the tremendous hunger that’s manifested itself, for the sorts of things that I’ve been talking about. And there isn’t a journalist who’s got that right, yet. And I think that’s because journalists tend to look at things from a political perspective, and this hasn’t been a fundamentally political- what I’ve been doing hasn’t been fundamentally political, even though it’s been cast that way.
I’ve been trying to help people. I’ve been trying to point out to people that they need a profound meaning in their life because their lives are difficult, and without a sustaining meaning, then you can become bitter, and that’s a bad outcome. And also that the meaning that you need to sustain yourself is to be found through responsibility. That’s the fundamental message that’s resounded with people. It’s that small equation. Meaning justifies suffering. And meaning is to be found through responsibility. And no one- no one is- no one is delivering that message. But it’s not optional, that knowledge. It’s vital. People can’t live without knowing that. And so that’s what I’ve been telling people is that- “Look, your life is going to be hard, and that can warp and hurt you in a way that will incline you to make things worse, rather than better. But you can forestall that without being naive, by taking on the proper responsibility in your life, for yourself and for your family, and for your community.” And that’s real, that makes things better. It’s not just the psychological paper over; it’s the genuine article. I have all these thousands of people who are continually communicating with me who say, “I’ve tried that. I tried that. I was desperate and I tried that and it works.” So that shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle and in the details of my you know, bizarre affliction. It’s a sideshow.
That’s a big one there, but I understand. Thank you. I really appreciate that.
Good talking with you.
Thank you, you too. Thank you.
Don’t sunburn too badly in Jamaica.
Mikhaila and the Interviewer:
Hi, Mikhaila. How are you doing?
Good. Not bad. How are you?
I’m okay. I’m not feeling quite at my most professional, Mikhaila, we’ve got stranded in Jamaica.
Oh, they’re definitely worse places to be stranded.
You are not wrong.
But the Wi-Fi in the house we’re currently in is slightly ropey. So I’ve just had a slightly nervy 10 minutes, but hopefully, we’ll be okay.
Okay. Okay. Hopefully, I don’t mind.
And Mikhaila, thank you so much. This is really helpful if I can get a sort of full-briefing from you.
Yeah, I just wanted to- So I’ll give you the brief story. I’ve recounted it a whole bunch of times, every time we get a new doctor. So I’ll give you the background, and I wanted to do it because my dad is- he’s still not fully recovered, he’s probably not going to be fully recovered for another year, to be honest. And he’s still extremely prone to anxiety. And so any recounting of it is- it knocks him out for a couple days. So hopefully tomorrow, if I give you all the like, nitty-gritty, nasty details, then he can fill you in on, you know, how he feels and everything, but he won’t have to go through all of what happened.
Yeah, got you.
Okay, so do you? Um, let me start from- I’m going to let him tell his story. I’m just going to tell the medical stuff that he doesn’t want to get into.
Okay. So in ’20, he was taking SSRIs for I think, I believe 14 years. It was a long time, to treat fairly severe depression that seems to run in our family. And that was going
Can I ask, has he always had that, all your life, was that sort of part of your family experience, your father’s depression?
Yeah, my great-grandpa had it and he ended up on the, you know, very depressed, living on the couch for the last, you know, 10 years of his life, like very depressed. It hit my grandpa in his 40s and then it hit my dad- he said it was there, but it wasn’t bad until his late 20s, and so he didn’t start taking- because he didn’t want to take medication for it. But it was starting to affect his lecturing. He wasn’t able to lecture, he was working at Harvard, and it started to affect his lecturing. So he started taking an SSRI and it helped quite a bit. And then it hit me, and it hit me when I was really little, like 12. So it’s this familial depression. And in 2015, we went on a low-carb diet, he got a lot healthier. You can see from the videos in 2015 to 2016, he lost- he went from 218 to 160, he lost a whole bunch of weight. He had GERD and gum disease that got better, he had psoriasis that got better. And his depression started to get better. So he went off of the antidepressants, and things were okay. And then they weren’t okay. And he went on Rogan, and he got a lot of negative media for this, but he talked about this sodium metabisulfite response in apple cider, where he had severe insomnia. And it is actually something that happened, it happened to both of us. And we now know what happened.
You were both affected by it.
Yeah, it was over Christmas, and it hit him- it hit- it was really awful. But it hit him harder. He was-
And that was at the end of 2016?
So this was after he had been off of SSRIs for about a year. This was at the end of 2016. Yeah, it was at the very end of 2016. So he had this response where he got pale, he couldn’t stand up without blacking out. He wasn’t sleeping, he had this impending sense of doom. And he’d had similar reactions like this throughout the previous year. But then it had been interspersed with no depression, and then these weird depressive reactions. So we had, we had this reaction, and he went to the doctor after about a week of being- he was in really bad shape, like, and this was kind of- at the same time, he was under a lot of stress because the book was about to come out.
I was just going to say- exactly. 2016, would have been a big year for him in his career.
Yeah, so not only was there this health thing, but there was actual life stress going on. So there was a question at U of T about whether or not he was going to keep his job.
So that was incredibly stressful. And then just- even just having people come up in the street, even though that was overwhelmingly positive, just going from not being known, to being known was stressful. But the main- our entire family agrees- the main problem here was this weird health thing. And we were going to doctors, and they didn’t really know what was going on. He went to the family doctor, and a family doctor put him on a really low dose of a benzodiazepine.
Is that the same family doctor who had been prescribing the SSRIs before then?
Yeah. So he just took it. And it helped with his, especially with the insomnia. And then he had- we didn’t really think about it because he’d been taking SSRIs for, you know, 14 years. And he had this year where we were trying to get the depression under control, so he was on another, you know, psych med and we’re like, okay, whatever. Um, at that time, we were not aware of the response some people can have to that. So he stayed on that, and he did his world tour and things were okay, were pretty good, I would say, and then…
So you weren’t concerned at that point? It felt as if this whole situation had been managed.
Yeah, well, we thought- we didn’t really know what these- I knew because I have an autoimmune condition on top of it. And I’d been having these reactions, these ridiculous food reactions that was also kind of ridiculed. And so we had similar reactions, and I didn’t actually end up taking any medication because I was pregnant at the time. So I was like, I’m not doing anything. I’m just- whatever this is, maybe it’ll go away. So we didn’t think about it, and about a year- so it was 20, I want to make sure I get the years right. 2020, 2019, in 2019- 2018, at the end of 2018, my mom got diagnosed with cancer.
And it was one of- it was kidney cancer, one of the better cancers. And things are kind of slow in Canada so she didn’t end up getting the surgery she needed until March. And then about a month after the surgery, they said, “Oh, this isn’t the type of cancer we thought it was. This is actually collecting duct carcinoma, and you have eight months. And nothing helps.” Like they said, we can do surgery, but there’s no really- no response to chemo, and it’s this extremely rare cancer. And we did a whole bunch of research, and it was this extremely rare cancer that is extremely deadly. And at that point, my dad’s obviously- it was just horrible because it was- she’s healthy. She had no symptoms, and then suddenly had this. And so the doctor put the benzodiazepines up, and dad started to get super weird.
… because I think he originally said it was under naught point two-five, and then it jumped up to four milligrams, is that right? I think that’s what it is.
I don’t know if it started at point, two-five twice a day, or point five twice a day.
But it was low, and it went up to four. And it went up- it didn’t go up from that to four, it went up slowly because it went up a bit, and he got way worse. So he started getting, what we now know, is akathisia?
And what did that look like? Yeah, how did that manifest again?
Akathisia is a- it manifested as extreme anxiety, and suicidality, something that he had never had being depressed. Like, he’d never had suicidal, even thoughts, being depressed. So this was nothing that I’d ever seen or that my family had ever seen. And we immediately thought something’s going on with medication. But my mom was also on the verge of death. And so we’re like, he’s absolutely head over heels in love with her. Who knows how hard he’s taking it. But still, something was wrong, right? So then the doctor put the medication up a little bit more, and then this got worse. And then my dad who was trying to be stable because of how horrible this situation was- this is when things got really bad. He went to a psychiatrist in Toronto, who said, “Okay, you have treatment-resistant depression, try ketamine. But in order to try ketamine, you need to get off of the benzodiazepines.” And then he scheduled an appointment for ketamine. And I’m not happy with the psychiatrists because you can’t stop taking benzodiazepines. And we didn’t know that. We found out, but we didn’t know that. So after- so he stopped taking them to get to do this ketamine treatment, and he’d stopped- like when he stopped the antidepressants, he had some side effects, but he kind of stopped before- some of the summertimes he didn’t take them when he felt a little bit better, so we didn’t think about this. Anyway, about a week after stopping and after two ketamine treatments, he was in terrible shape, like and I went over- So suicidal-
If I had met him during that period, what would I have noticed? How would he have presented?
Extremely agitated, and almost like somebody who was in pain. To me, it looked like pain. And I went over there and I thought- and I looked at him and I was like, “Oh, my God, I can’t even talk to this guy, right? He’s not even here, what’s going on?” And we called one of our friends who’s a psychiatrist, and that guy said, “He’s in benzodiazepine withdrawal. He can’t do that.” Right? So he went back on but he went to- because, at this point, he was like, “Oh, no, I have this dependency that I’ve formed, I need to get off of this stuff.” So he went back on to half the dose. And then it turned out he was just in withdrawal because you have to- it’s crazy. Some people have to titrate down by using drops of this medication, which isn’t something a lot of doctors know. So when you’re put on the medication, you’re not going to say, “By the way, to get off of this, you might need to cut your pill into slivers.” Right?
So anyway, so then he was put on more mood stabilizers, and his akathisia, which is actually a fairly common side effect to psych meds, his akathisia got way worse. And for the last two years, we’ve been bouncing from doctor to doctor, and for a while, his akathisia was misdiagnosed. So it took about- it took until August this summer to actually diagnose him with akathisia, which is a side effect of a medication, but he was bounced from you know bipolar, depression. One person diagnosed him with schizophrenia. It was like, he does not- he’s in pain because of these medications. So he went to- this is in the news too, we made kind of a family decision, “Like these medications are harming you, you need to get off of them. But you can’t seem to without this horrible withdrawal and worsening akathisia, so rehab.” So he went to rehab in the States.
Yeah. Or two months, definitely September till November 2019. And he ended up on more medication coming out and in worse shape. And so he went home and tried titrating down again, and again, ended up in such a- this akathisia was so bad. Akathisia makes people suicidal. It’s this crawling feeling, that’s so bad. You can see people on YouTube trying to describe it. It’s a crawling sensation that makes you not want to stop moving. And so it’s commonly misdiagnosed as schizophrenia because they don’t know what it is. And in order to treat schizophrenia, you get put on psych meds, and that causes worsening akathisia. So he was in a hospital in Toronto. He got back from the first rehab center, and then his akathisia got worse when he tried to get off these medications, plus, they had added in two more, so he was in worse shape. So we hospitalized him because we were worried about his safety.
That was on the eastern seaboard?
Yeah, he um, it was terrible. He ended up there for, I believe he was there September until November.
Oh, my goodness, he was there for two months.
Month and a half. Yeah.
Oh, I see. Okay.
You were worried that he would injure himself, that he would hurt himself?
And he was worried. Right? Like,
Oh, yeah, it was really bad. And this is not like- this isn’t him, right? He’s never had that kind of tendency, not even in the least. So we’re like something this is really bad. So he was hospitalized here in a public hospital, and they diagnosed him with schizophrenia and doubled some of the medications. And so my family was there, and at this point, my grandparents had flown over, my uncle had flown over, and we were going, “The medications are making him sick, get him off of them. How do we get him off of them? And the hospital here said, “It’s schizophrenia, we should do ECT. ECT”
Yeah. And he’s there.
So their entire position is that he has a psychiatric condition that they need to treat with drugs, your entire position is he has had psychiatric side effects from being given drugs he should not be on, and the solution is to get him off the drugs not to be giving him. You’re total cross purposes.
It was so bad and I can remember one of the conversations we had with his psychiatrist he has. He goes, “Well, we think it’s schizophrenia.” And I was like, “These symptoms didn’t even start until he started the medications. Okay? So you’re telling me like a mid-fifty year-old-man with no previous symptoms of schizophrenia suddenly gets schizophrenia, which doesn’t generally- generally happens late teens, for men?” It’s not like we’re uneducated in these things. Right? I was like, “What? How about you remove the meds and just see if it’s a side effect, given the fact it could be?” And he- they wouldn’t listen to us. So we called- this is- my mom. This was just- I was worried my mom was going to get sick again. I was like, I don’t know what causes cancer.
I’ve been wondering what’s been going on for your mom during this whole period, during that whole period in 2019?
Back to that she-
She had the surgery, and then she obviously, she had those terrible problems with lymphatic drainage.
So she had the surgery, and then they nicked a lymph duct. And so over the next month, it was like, why isn’t mom healing? Why isn’t mom healing? And she ended up in emergency about six weeks after the first surgery. And in Canada, like we couldn’t- we had to wait in emergency to see somebody even though she just had the surgery. And then she was in the hospital for a month. She couldn’t eat anything. So she was on TPN. She lost a whole bunch of weight because she wasn’t absorbing any nutrients. And it was just- it was like a horror movie. Like every day was like a horror movie. And they’re like, “We don’t know what to do, we can’t find the leak.” And so we ended up, thank goodness we have money because we stayed there and they couldn’t fix it, they couldn’t fix it. And we ended up flying down to the States. And then they did a surgery where they went in to try and find the leak, and they couldn’t find it. So they injected this poppy seed dye that sometimes works, and it sealed the leak. And then she recovered in like, you know, not psychologically because it was traumatizing, but she recovered, like, in days, as soon as the leak stopped. But at that point- so that was August 2019, at that-
But at that point, that’s when your dad started to be in real trouble.
Yeah, so he was akathisic like crazy. We didn’t really understand what was going on because it’s like, “Dad, why are you so suicidal? and uncomfortable? Why can’t you sit down? Things are okay now.” And it was because-
He would literally be unable to just sit in an armchair and with a glass in his hand and just have a kind of conversation where he’s just sort of sitting still and focusing.
That couldn’t happen?
No. He was pacing. He was just pacing. It was as bad as the bad videos of people on YouTube look.
Were any of the doctors saying, “This is about grief and panic about his wife’s condition. This isn’t psychiatric, this is just kind of a grief response.” Was that not the theory as well …?
No, no, it was really like they were looking back on the 14 years of antidepressants and saying this is a reemergence of depression, exacerbated by stress. But it didn’t have the same symptoms at all, right? He was never- like his depression was like walking through tar. Right? Like, he could sit on the couch. He napped all the time. It was like a heavy tar. It wasn’t agitated panic.
So he’s in this hospital in Toronto. And they said, “We can’t get him off the medications because he needs to be sedated.” Because he’s so agitated, so they had increased everything, and at this point, he had this sensation to move, but he was so sedated that he couldn’t move very well. And I couldn’t communicate with him, like my family, and I couldn’t communicate with him in this hospital very well. And they wanted to do ECT for schizophrenia. So we started calling kind of rehab clinics around the world. We contacted 57 places, my husband and I, because at this point, my mom, like I said, I was worried the stress was going to make her ill, and it was too much. And so we wrote down all the rehab centers, we could write down, called them and explain what was going on and said, “He’s on too many medications. He’s having these side effects. Can you get rid of them? Can you get rid of them?” And everyone we called except for two places, said: “No, we have to stabilize him first.” And I was like, the only thing these places used to stabilize people are like antipsychotics or benzodiazepines. And we’re like, those are the problems. What do we do? So this one- this sounds absolutely insane, but this one place in Russia knew who dad was, and was like, “Yeah, we do detoxes.”
When you’re having these conversations, with these 57 clinics, are you explaining who your father is? Is that part of the conversation or do most of them have no idea?
I didn’t explain at that point. Because we also didn’t know- we didn’t know what was going on. We’re like this could go- we don’t- we can’t handle the media at the moment, on top of dealing with whatever the hell is going on. So no, we didn’t tell anyone who they were until we’d had a number of conversations. But sorry, there were three places. There was a place in Israel, a place in Serbia, and a place in Russia. And Israel has a very similar medical system to like a North American medical system. So when we talked to them a number of times after we got past the money, they said, “No, we’d have to stabilize him first. But don’t worry, we can do that.” But we’d already tried a number of psychiatrists in Canada, and a rehab center in the US, and a hospital in Canada, and no one had been able to stabilize him because it was akathisia. So we went to Russia, like my whole family. Like my aunt and my uncle and my grandparents, they all flew down over Christmas. My dad was in the hospital over Christmas in 2019. And we talked to these guys in Russia, and we said “Look, he can’t wean down. These medications are killing him. We could do a detox. These guys say they could do it, but it’s going to be- you know, it’s in Russia, first of all. It’s got to be dangerous because no one else will do it. So what do we do because-?” And so my family agreed, “Okay, let’s give it a shot.”
Did everyone agree or was it a quite complicated Christmas of just debating back and forth?
No. At that point, we tried a number of things, like, you know, we got to the point, especially when he went to the rehab center in the States because that was a high up- that was up there rehab center. And when that just made him worse, we were like, “Oh, well, what do we do? How do we get him off these things? Do we just do it ourselves? Do we just like, keep him safe?” But he was in so much pain from this akathisia that it’s like, this isn’t fair, somebody who’s like this should be like, I can understand why they would sedate people because they need to be calmed down because it looks like pain or something. So we no- at that point, we didn’t go to Russia until we were completely out of options, right? And we’d hoped that the hospital in Canada would help but then they suggested keeping him on the meds and doing an ECT, and it was like, that is not what his brain needs. He doesn’t need to be zapped. He’ll forget, like the side effects, you can forget the last year or two, and then what if it doesn’t work? Because it’s not going to because it’s side effects. So we went to Russia, my husband’s Russian. And that was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Hands down by far. And he went-we flew, it was like a movie. We flew there on my birthday- we got there. And the day we got there. They
You, your husband, your child, and your dad. Is that right?
and a security-
Was your dad able, at that point, to kind of walk, and check-in himself, and navigate an airport or
Did he feel embarrased that you were flying invalid?
We took- yeah, we took out a private plane.
Oh did you?
We took a private plane. Yeah, he was too agitated. He was, at this point, the hospitals he’d been in, put them on this regimen where it was like medication every three hours to try and stabilize him. So we flew with a security guard and a nurse to monitor the transfer who had Russian passports. So they were allowed to go because we had to get a visa over Christmas. It was like- it was absolutely ridiculous. So we get to Russia. And they bring us to this pretty nice hospital where they do detoxes for people on drugs, and most of them are opiate detoxes. So this was not a usual case. And they do, I guess, in at least in Eastern Europe, the sedated detoxes are much more common than they are here. So they use propofol, they put you into a kind of a coma, but a sedation and then wait until the drugs are out of your system. So what they did for dad, at that point, he was on a lot of medication. He was way worse than he had been even in the summer when my mom was sick, way worse because he couldn’t remember things at that point because of the medication. So they put them in this propofol. Oh, so he gets there, and when he arrives, he has a fever. And we’re like, why does he have a fever? And they do a scan, and he had pneumonia in both lungs.
That’s when he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He contracted it in Toronto hospital?
Yeah. So he’d had it. I don’t know how long he’d had it because it was walking pneumonia. So maybe it’d been there for months. But I don’t think so because when he got into the hospital in Toronto, he was walking around, and he was there for two weeks, and at the end, when we took him out, he was just in a bed. He didn’t have any energy, but it was hard to tell if it was the pills.
So we got there. And then he has-
…Did you tell the Toronto hospital what are you doing, you were discharging him to take him to Russia?
We didn’t get his medical records. They were not okay with it. We had to sign papers taking full responsibility of whatever happened. So he was discharged against doctor’s orders. And they were annoyed about it enough that they wouldn’t give us his papers, which is not even legal. Right? You’re supposed to get discharge papers. It was a complete mess. But um, I think they were confused because whatever was going on with him was very severe. They hadn’t seen it before. And they knew who he was. So it was just- it was just a mess. And they’re like, “What are you doing? You’re going to Russia?” They’re just like, “What is happening?” But we certainly weren’t going to keep him on the drugs and do ECT under a diagnosis of schizophrenia. And he was well enough that he talked to the psychiatrist and was like, “Look, I’m not having delusions. Like I’m not schizophrenic. I’m just- I can’t stop moving. I have this crawling sensation. Right? I have this-”
…that he wants to go to Russia?
Yeah, he agreed. So like we made sure because in case something terrible happened, we needed everybody to be on the same page. So yes, yeah, it was- that was a really awful Christmas. So everyone was on the same page. We got to Russia. They put them in this detox, and then he ended up being intubated, which he wasn’t supposed to be because of this frickin-
Because of the pneumonia?
Yeah. So that was horrible because that was terrifying. So during the detox, they did something called plasmapheresis, which takes your blood and cleans it. Which kind of sounds like something out of science fiction, but it’s a real thing. And they could test- benzodiazepines have such a long half-life. That there’s a theory that maybe some of the withdrawal is because you still have benzodiazepines in you.
So the plasmapheresis just got rid of everything. And when we got there, the Russian doctors, who I couldn’t communicate with, which was terrifying, but my husband, my husband, to me, but that was awful, too. I was like, how fast can I learn Russian, but it’s difficult. So where was I? Oh, yeah. When we got there, they said, “We think he’s been poisoned and that this was on purpose.” The Russian doctors, they’re like, “We think someone was doing this on purpose.” And I was like, “No, it’s just a whole- it’s just kind of what happens, right? If you have these symptoms, you get put on these other medications.” And he just- it was really not on purpose. But they’re so much more careful in Eastern Europe because there’s not as much- sounds like a conspiracy theory, but there’s not as much payment to doctors from pharmaceutical companies. So doctors don’t care if they use certain meds. So benzodiazepines are almost never prescribed, and even the other psych meds. I’ll get to that. Anyway. So he does this detox. He wakes up. He was sedated and intubated for nine days.
Meanwhile, what were you doing Mikhaila, where are you, your husband, and child?
So we just showed up, we stayed at a hotel for a couple of days, then got an Airbnb, then found someone to help with Scarlet because we were spending time at the hospital making sure everything was not being sketchy. Because it’s Russia. I don’t know. It didn’t look sketchy, but you want to make sure it’s not sketchy. So we-
Was he in good hands, or could you not really tell?
Initially, yeah. It looked really good. The hospital we first went to looked like decades ahead of the hospitals I’ve seen in Canada, the public ones. It was super clean. When you walked in- we got there and you know, I can still communicate with dad. He’s just in a lot of pain. We get there and there are these shoe covers. You step into this machine and it covers your shoe and plastic automatically.
Which he’d never seen before. And he was like, we got it. This is genius. Now in the era of COVID, it might be genius. But anyway, we- so he was relieved to- my dad was relieved when he got there because he was like, he thought he was gonna die. He was like, “I keep going to hospitals. They keep putting me on more medication. I’m akathisic, I can’t control it. I’m gonna die.” So we were at that point, and that’s why we ended up in Russia. So he does the detox and he wakes up and he’s in bad shape, like
Delirious, but also not really talking. So when he first-
So he’s conscious, so when you arrive at his bedside, how does he seem?
I thought he was catatonic. So bad. Really, really, really bad. So when he first woke up, he was there a little bit. Oh, actually, when he first woke up, so this was nine days after, he told me the akathisia’s gone. That was it. The akathisic is gone. And I was like, Okay, well, thank God for that because that’s what was making him suicidal.
The akathisia’s gone. And we couldn’t- it was a hospital so there were visiting hours, so we couldn’t stay. We came the next day. And then he wasn’t responding. He was catatonic. I went to the- I couldn’t communicate with the doctors. I went to the doctors and I was like “He needs- like he needs to be stabilized, but don’t use, you know, this array of medication. But something is really wrong, what’s happening? What’s going on?” And because realistically, these guys hadn’t really done detoxes from a whole bunch of psych meds they were used to dealing with people on opiates realistically. Yeah. Anyway, so he was catatonic, and then he was delirious. So we came in the next day, and he thought my husband was his old roommate.
Your husband was his old roommate?
Yeah, who died. Oh, it was horrible. So he- yeah. So I was like, you know, this is a huge problem he needs to- something’s wrong and he’s not being taken care of. Anyway, so the people
You must have been panicking, at that point.
I had lost hair. I was like, yeah, like I lost- I’ve got a whole bunch of hair extensions in. This is not- this is not all me. But yeah, I’ve never been that stressed my entire life, and my husband, obviously, we’d brought dad here and was like, what did the detox do? Was it too hard on his brain? Like, it looked like it was going to take him like two years to recover if he was going to recover. It was really bad. And so he got transferred to a reanimatology clinic, which is for people with severe head trauma, basically. Three hours north of Moscow. A public Russian hospital. Pardon?
So when he comes out of the induced coma, the delirium, they say, “Whoops, we’ll just send him off to the public hospital because they’ll have to…”
Yeah. So at that point, I was like, we have
You must have been freaking out at that point..
I was just like, I was like, the entire- I’m fucked if this goes badly because the entire world is going to blame me. Because who brings somebody to detox, first of all, from these medications? In Russia? Like this is really bad. Plus, more importantly, this is my dad, and this isn’t fair. Like what’s- this isn’t fair. He’s been injured by medication that he was put on. So we get to the reanimatology clinic, and the head doctor- Andre, so I couldn’t even go inside. I was in the car, and I was like green and nauseous. And I was just like, “He’s not gonna remember this, like Andre, you go. Because I can’t talk to anyone. I’m just going to yell at people.” Right? At that point, I was just going in and yelling at people. And I was like, I can’t just go into this and yell at someone in English. It’s not helpful. So he went in, and he came out and he was green. And I was like, “What did they say?” And he said that he’d explained why we’d come that he was being put on too many medications back home and that they wouldn’t remove them, and he was going to die, and we’d brought him here. And the head nurse had said, “Oh, so you’ve brought him here so we can finish the job.” And so we went home that day, and, you know, that was not a good day. I had-
What was the hospital like?
it was like out of a movie. It was three hours north of Moscow. So we had to drive in Moscow winter up there, which is insane. It had a guarded fence around it. It was like Soviet-era hospital from a movie. It was a huge center. And it was full of really, thank God, really, really, really, really skilled doctors. So I went the next day and dad was back. Whatever they had done had just- so I got there, and he hadn’t been moving, right? He sits up, he looks at me, and he goes, “You’re in so much trouble.” And I was like, “Dad! Dad!” And he was really confused by that response because he’s like, “I’m just mad at you, and you’re just like, happy to see me.” And so we explained because he was still pretty out of it, we explained, you know, he couldn’t even remember getting on the plane. He couldn’t remember getting on the plane to go to Russia. So he can’t remember the entire hospital in Toronto. Yeah. So he went from like, early December to waking up in a Russian hospital.
I know. It doesn’t- it’s absolutely absurd.
He had forgotten the whole of his Toronto hospital experience, and the journey to Russia, and the detox clinic. So he’s gone for- he’s lost everything
A month and a half.
And a half.
And I think that was because- so he was akathisic at the beginning of December. Hold on. I’m just gonna close this door. Anyway, and then when he went into this hospital in Toronto, they had literally doubled some of the medications he was on to stabilize him. And then he didn’t remember anything after that.
But what had they done in the public hospital in Russia? What had they done there, overnight, to bring him back?
So they had given him- when I looked at the list because I was like, “Did they give him a benzodiazepine? Like, what exactly is going on here?” And they had given him a whole bunch of really low dose, kind of everything. But most importantly, from what we learned, he was using Dexdor, which is something they use for- they use it for surgery to put- it’s kind of like propofol, they use it to sedate people who are in a lot of pain, or for surgery, and to calm people down. But it’s not a benzodiazepine, or an antipsychotic, or one of these sedative drugs. It’s called Dexdor, Dexmedetomidine I think in the US. And so he was- he had this IV of Dexdor. And then they added in a whole bunch of vitamins like they just threw everything at him to try and get him to stabilized, but they didn’t use benzodiazepines, which is at the time, which is what we were concerned about. And over the next- he was like, “Okay, get me out of here, like right now.” Because we had to go, the stupid hospital, it was- there was no- in Russia, you can bribe people and it’s a bit more loose with rules. And this hospital was like Soviet-era, there was no staying over the time limit. Like, it didn’t matter who you are, or what you were offering. So there were two hours of visiting or two hours of visiting hours a day. So we drove three hours there to visit and then three hours home. And over the next- I can’t remember exactly, he was in there for, I believe eight days, it wasn’t very long, thinking back on it, given the state he was in. But he every day was, “Get me out of here, get me out of here.” And it was like, “Well, Dad, you have to be able to walk.” Because he couldn’t walk at this point.
He couldn’t walk.
No. And we don’t know. Like, why exactly.
Right. Presuming, at that point, you want to understand what on Earth has happened and why he is the way he is.
And even the people who’d done the detox were like, this isn’t? You know, we don’t know. And they had- they were- they had good doctors, but no one could explain why- what had happened, exactly. So-
The detox people had no idea about why he had emerged in that way. All they knew was that they were more familiar with detoxing opioids than…
That’s not exactly true. The head psychiatrist at this reanimatology clinic, they did MRIs and CT scans to try and figure out what was going on, see if there’s brain damage or anything. And they looked at the MRI, and they said, “Oh, he has damage from the SSRIs.” I was like, “What?” And they’re like, “Yeah, he has brain changes from the SSRIs because he was on the SSRIs for so long.” And I was like, “Okay, whatever.” Like, I kind of just ignored that. That comes into play a little bit later. So they did see brain changes. They didn’t see brain damage. They said brain changes but they couldn’t really identify what was going on through scans, which was good. Nothing’s really wrong. They said that there was a bit of ischemic damage, but it looked old. So it really wasn’t clear what had happened. And so over the next eight days, he went from sitting up in bed, to like shuffling, to walking, to basically running down the halls. And he was like, “I’m getting out of here.”
He got off of the Dexdor in a week. And then when we left, when we left that place we drove- so then he was going to the actual rehab center. Not that he was a rehab patient, but they did neurological rehab as well. So and we had no- we couldn’t bring him home, he needed too much care. He was still like not well. When we brought him out of that hospital, he could barely walk. He couldn’t- he didn’t really understand where his feet were. He said he’s like, “I’m blind. Like, I’m blind with my feet.” So he’d hit his feet on things. He forgot how to type. So he put his hands on the keyboard and he’s like, “It’s not there, I don’t know how to type.” And we’re just like, Jesus, this is not good. Like, this is really not good. And so he went and stayed at the rehab center, which we, you know-
Is that the one in Florida?
No, this was still in Russia. This is the team of people who would organize the detox.
This is now the third place in Russia.
So the first-
Yes, this is location number three in Russia.
Yeah, location number three. The deal was he does the detox in a hospital and he moves to the rehab center. The reanimatology clinic was not supposed to happen. He was not supposed to-
I understood, I see. So this is always where he was meant to be convalescing after the detox. Got you.
Yes, exactly. So he’s there and we- I was carefully monitoring the medication because I was like I don’t want-I know that these medications make him sick, so like, remove everything that’s not- you know, he was on proton pump inhibitors, they’d added in a whole bunch of things, and I was like, he doesn’t need a whole bunch of this stuff.
I was going to say, what you’re trying to do is get him off meds, not onto more right at that point.
Yeah, and so that was annoying, but he ended up on, and here’s where things get tricky. So he ended up on a very, very low dose of an antipsychotic to stabilize, and a very low dose of an antidepressant. And we thought, okay, these are like, tiny amounts, if that’s what he needs to be stable, we can get rid of those later when we’re at home, like, whatever. So he’s doing pretty good, he’s getting better and better. We were going for walks, one of his friends flew out, got a visa, flew out, and stayed with him, like, all day so that someone was there with him.
We talked to the rehab center, they were really- they took a huge risk bringing him in there, and they were really helpful with letting people stay and visit. But he was like, “I want to go home.” This is Russia, this is like, scary. And we wanted to go home and we thought, okay, we’ll go to Florida because he’s not- I didn’t want to bring him back to Toronto with mom because it was still too much work taking care of them. Like, he needed nurses and things. So we went to Florida, and then my brother came to visit and was like, “Oh my god, you know, dad’s better, like, a lot better.” So this had been a month. It was a horrible-
At this point, would your dad wake up in the morning, and walked to breakfast, read the papers, send some emails? Was he at that level of function or not really?
No. He was staying in bed until mid-afternoon. But then he’d get up and swim. He was barbecuing. Right? But he was like, kind of quieter than normal, and a little bit slower than he should be.
It was so horrible. Yeah, he called me, and he’s like, “Um, you know, this akathisia is back. I’m suicidal again.” And it was just like, what is going on? So we thought it was-
After all that.
Slower and more muted.
Yeah. Muted. Yeah. And I was like, okay, well, I’m more comfortable that he’ll recover now, but something’s a bit off. So we’re there for a week and a half, and the akathisia comes back. And we’re like,
After all that.
Yeah. And it was like, why? It was gone. It was gone nine days after all the medications left. Like, it just started to, like, what’s going on? And I thought it’s the medications. It’s got to be the medications.
Even this very low dose- was it antidepressants and antipsychotics?
But we were also getting information from doctors that this could be like, protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal that just popped up now. So-
Yeah. It wasn’t. It turns out it was akathisia from the medication. But um, we didn’t know that, and so at that point, we’re like, well, what do we do? We’ve already called the hospitals in the US, and if we bring him there when he’s akathisic, they’re going to put them on meds. They’ve already- they’ve straight up told us that, like, we’re not going back to Russia. Thanks. I was like, you know, what do we do now? So we thought maybe it’ll just go away. Maybe this is protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal, and it will just go away. So we stayed with him, my grandparents came down, and we stayed with him for months, and the akathisia got worse, and it got worse. And cognitively, he was getting clearer, but he was in a lot of pain. So it’s numbness on his left side, this inability to sit down and lay down, this urge to walk around, and this suicidality from this crawling sensation, and super, super low blood pressure. So whenever he’d stand up, he’d blackout.
Anyway, so we contacted that clinic in Serbia- Oh, one of the doctors from Serbia had flown out when dad was in the reanimatology clinic because we had wanted, obviously, wanted a second opinion. We’re like, what are these people doing? We need someone who knows what they’re doing here just to check on them. And he’d come, and he came, this actually made us feel way better. He came and said, “This is good. He’s doing well.” And we’re like, oh, well, thank God for that. So we’d had like, an outside source check on these guys because, at that point, we were like, these guys don’t know what they’re doing. Anyway, so we were in contact with the Serbian clinic and this was like top of the world, private hospital, where a lot of people from the Middle East go to.
So, we talked to this doctor and he said, “You know, you should come to this neuro rehab clinic we do. We deal with this stuff. I’ve dealt with this stuff before. I’ve dealt with benzo withdrawal.” And his akathisia, he didn’t go off these medications because, well, they were such a small amount. Nobody knew that they could cause such severe responses. So we ended up- it got so bad that he was a danger to himself and my family couldn’t handle it anymore. It was like, my grandparents were there helping take care of him, and it was just like, it was way too much. So we went to Serbia.
So when you say too much, so he was still in the clinic in Florida?
No, we were at home. So this is- at the same time, we flew there late February. COVID happened in March. So like, everything shut down March, April. So we had rented a house and we’re staying with him, taking care of him from-
In which city? Sorry, I’m-
Okay, got you, right.
Just kind of relax, and heal.
And then COVID hit, and then we were taking care of like, my family, my grandparents, my dad in this COVID mess. It was like, oh, my God, this is a disaster. So anyway, months pass, like horrible months pass.
So you’re all in the house in Palm Beach, in pretty much semi-lockdown, trying to look after your dad.
And he’s getting worse, and we have no idea why.
And he’s suicidal.
Although it would be- so his symptoms, they’re way worse in the morning than they are in the evening. So in the evening, he’d actually be pretty good. It was weird. It would like, he’d do a whole bunch of swimming, he’d do some weights. Even in his horrible state, he’d do this stuff, and then by like, 5:30, he could sit down and have dinner. And by 9 pm, we’d watch TV and he’d be laying on the couch watching TV. And he had a bit of a sense of humor, it was absolutely absurd. And then it’d be like shit, the morning is going to happen again, like what is going on? He was like, “How much am I contributing? Like, is this in my head?” Just- we had no idea what was going on.
So we went to Serbia, and we get to Serbia and you probably saw the podcast dad and I did together. So they put him under propofol again because he was so anxious. And of course, he’s like, “I’m back in Eastern Europe. I’m never gonna see my wife, never gonna go home. Like, I’m doomed.”
Is he articulating all of these things?
Yeah, he was doing better, like, at that point. He wasn’t less- he wasn’t in a better place, but at least he was more cognitively there.
So there were … of anxiety and … on all of the kind of-
Sort of worst-case scenarios.
Worst case for sure. Although, it wasn’t unreasonable, given what happened. So they seemed to stabilize him. They did this propofol sleep, which seemed to help and we figured maybe he wasn’t sleeping, right? Because some people go into benzo withdrawal and they can’t sleep. So we’re like, I don’t know what happened, but thank God he’s back. Although he was a little like, honestly, I would say stoned, seemed kind of stoned.
But I was like, I don’t care. He’s- at least he’s relaxed, thank goodness. And then about three weeks later, the akathisia came back. And the doctor there was like, “What is going on?” And so that’s where he was diagnosed with Akathisia. And that doctor said, “I can’t help because I can’t use any medication to help him. It’s the medications causing these problems, and there isn’t anything I can do.” And at that point, well, we were like, well, at least that makes sense. Right? It’s not in his head. It’s a side effect. And they ended up using- they ended up using a partial opiate. So this is something that- it’s been difficult to know how much of this to talk about, and how much of it not to talk about because since I- we put out a video saying, “Hey, you know, dad’s in rehab, this is what’s going on because people are gonna find out anyway.”
You mean back in September 2019?
That was September 2019. Yeah. And because we’ve always been pretty honest about what’s going on, and it was like, he’s writing these self-help books, he’s having a hard time like, we can’t cut- it’s worse if we kind of keep that hidden. So we’d been- and it was so much to bear that telling- keeping people updated when he just disappeared, was ideal. But the problem with that is, I’ve had probably 3000 people email me asking how dad’s got his akathisia under control because there are people who are suicidal, living daily with akathisia, being treated with psych meds that are probably worsening the symptoms because akathisia is just so poorly understood.
Anyway, so what he did was he started using Suboxone, which doesn’t-
It’s like a- it’s a partial opiate. And technically, they use it to treat people who are addicted to opiates to get them off of it. Which obviously, wasn’t his problem, but it also has calming properties, and it’s used to treat akathisia.
Yeah, so if you- there are studies online, too, if you find someone who really knows what they’re doing, they can safely use opiates to treat akathisia because you can’t use any of the other sedating drugs. Like, any of the psych meds can trigger it. SSRIs, SNRIs, antipsychotics really, really can. Benzodiazepine-
Which is what he’d been prescribed.
Like, he tried all of them. So the Serbian clinic had tried everything, it was insane.
They tried everything because they had stabilized them initially, but it turns out akathisia is a little bit more complicated. It’s delayed. So it doesn’t happen, necessarily- It doesn’t necessarily happen as soon as you take the medication. For my dad, it happened three weeks later. So that’s why he kept getting better and then the akathisia would come back,
The akathisia would come back. So we’re in Serbia for three months, trying to stabilize him because this doctor is just like, “I can’t believe this.” Because it’s fairly rare, and his was so severe that it was very rare. So we ended up flying him home. I came home actually to organize the transfer, my husband stayed there with him. We got COVID when we were there, that’s not even like- that’s-
Yes. Did you… you and your husband and daughter moved into the hospital?
and then caught it in the hospital. Is that correct or have I got that wrong?
We don’t know where are we caught it from. But um, so when we got to Serbia, Serbia is interesting. It was completely open, completely open. So going from the states to Serbia was like, Whoa, and the government had said there are no COVID cases there.
I remember when Serbia had that sort of …
Yeah. And we were so not- like, because my dad was- we weren’t concerned. COVID was like least on our list of problems. So anyway, then elections happened. There were- and then they shut down the country, like days after elections. They’re like, “Oh, COVID is everywhere.” Mandatory quarantine. And then there were riots. My nanny, at that point, got hit on the outskirt of a crowd with tear gas because of the riots. Because people were like, “Hey, you said there was no COVID and now it’s everywhere.” And you just like, their elections are a little off.
So we, we all- it was either quarantine at home and not see dad at all or quarantine in the hospital. And at this point, yeah. So I was like, no frickin’ way are we doing that. So we stayed in a room in the hospital, and 11 days into quarantine, my daughter probably was the first one to get symptoms. She just had an upset stomach. And then my nanny had an upset stomach, and then I had an upset stomach, but it was like whatever. So like an upset stomach is not that bad. So quarantine was over. This is 14 days. We moved back home, and as soon as we got home, the hospital is like, “Jordan has- We tested him,” because they’re testing all the time, “Jordan has COVID.” And we’re still all sick, right? But we’re like, “No frickin’ way like, are you kidding me?” So we all got COVID including my nanny, everyone at the hospital got COVID. Igor, the head guy of the hospital, he’d already had COVID. Like, a lot of people had antibodies already there. And then they treated dad preemptively. So you can take like, some of the protocols involve antibiotics and steroids preemptively, which I wasn’t a huge fan of because my dad doesn’t react well to medication. And I was like, “Why don’t you wait for the symptoms before you put him on medication because it doesn’t react well.” So they ended up using- so we weren’t allowed to go visit him because he was in like- we weren’t allowed to go visit them for five days. And I got there and he was in the worst shape like, I- he was just- he was so agitated, it was hard to believe and-
Give an example of how that would- Do you mean he was physically agitated? Facially agitated, you mean when he was talking?
Facial moaning like the easiest way honestly, there are videos of people with akathisia on YouTube. It looks like. So it was bad and everyone in the hospital was freaked out. And I was like, there’s- because he was way worse than he was a week ago. And I was like, “Oh my god, are they using fluoroquinolones?” At this point I’ve read so much on this stuff, it’s absolutely absurd. And I know that there’s a class of antibiotics that you’re not supposed to give to people who are in benzo withdrawal called fluoroquinolones. And I was like, “Please like, please let them not be using fluoroquinolones.” Turns out they were using fluoroquinolones, and the interaction is not very well-read, well-known. It’s just absurd that these things kept happening. They don’t use fluoroquinolones as much in the States because they have side effects, people can get like, poisoned from them. They’re just an intense class of antibiotics. So, turns out he was on fluoroquinolones and I flipped and was like, “We’re pulling him out now.” Even though it wasn’t safe because he was akathisic. “We’re pulling him out now unless you stop the fluoroquinolones. Now.” And Andre talked to the head doctor who was also really stressed out at this point because it’s like, “What am I doing wrong? I’ve tried everything.” And he was a really good guy, probably the best doctor I’ve met. But he was super stressed out. He was pissed off being questioned. But he did drop the fluoroquinolones and dad got a lot better really quickly.
Okay, thank God.
So this was after we’d recorded this frickin’ podcast being like, “Hey, I’m stably doing better.” And then got like, COVID and akathisia, and it was like, “Oh, my God, this again.” So anyway, after that he was put on Suboxone. Suboxone helped a lot with the akathisia but it was still kind of there. We go home. So September, so he’s home. Finally. We’d left in January. It’s September, we hadn’t been home for nine months. Yeah, he’s home.
So he hadn’t seen your mom in nine months then?
Mom came to Florida to visit and then went home, and we’re trying to keep her stress levels very low because of how sick she was. It was just like, he didn’t want, you know, it was better for her to not see this. So she came to visit in Florida, and she also came- this was so- this was really hard on Dad, this was really hard on everybody. She came to Serbia, and literally, the day after she arrived, they locked everything down. And the head of the hospital said “We’re going into quarantine and you should go home. Because you’ve had cancer, you’re at a higher risk. You should go home.” And we were- I was so angry because I was like, dad was so looking forward to seeing her and then it was like, “You got to go home.” Two days.
But we did end up getting COVID and she didn’t. So-
Probably right about that. To be honest.
At the time, it didn’t feel good. But we did end up getting COVID and she didn’t say So anyway, we get home and he’s doing like, he’s still not in good shape. He’s waking up late, and he’s akathisic. So it’s the pacing, the uncomfortable crawling senses-
So he’s still in discomfort, and he pacing, and he’s agitated.
Yeah. Yeah. numbness, burning sensations, like, really bad neurological stuff.
This is nine months after he did the detox?
Yeah, yeah. So he goes to a psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist puts him on an antipsychotic. And I go- my husband and I had a fit. Right? We were like, “We’ve seen this happen a whole bunch of time