Remembering Jonathan

From the moment he was born, Jonathan was a very happy and energetic kid. He liked to get into everything, climb on top of things, and was fearless from a very young age. Jonathan always had strong passions. He loved building large structures with blocks and later transitioned into Lego sets. He easily constructed sets with over 4000 pieces and very quickly started to build his own custom Lego sets with tens of thousands of pieces. At one point, it was his dream to become a Lego Master Builder. There are currently only 40 such people in the entire world.

When Jonathan was 7 years old, I taught him how to play chess for the first time. I had over 15 years of experience at that time and considered myself an advanced player but I was shocked when he started to beat me within a few weeks! I immediately realized that he had a special talent for the game so I enrolled him in a local chess club and within a few months he started competing and winning several chess tournaments. He continued to play chess into his adulthood and continued to amaze us with his love and talent for the game.

In his early teens he got into swimming and soon joined a swim team where he competed or a regular basis in regional swim meets. He was particularly good with the breast stroke. When he turned 13 we all went to Israel to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah together. He worked so hard to learn Hebrew and did a wonderful job reading from the Torah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where the Temple once stood. We were all so proud of him! Later in life, when he turned 18, he joined me in triathlon races where we swam, cycled, and ran all in the same race. We had such a good time competing together.

He loved to travel with his family and got to visit France, Italy, England, and other countries around the world. He loved to learn about new cultures, and especially to try their food. Like his little brother, Benjamin, He loved to eat!

Right before he turned 19 years-old, as he turned into a young man, he decided to enlist in the Coast Guard. From a young age he always loved the military and talked about enlisting someday. He trained with me and the local military recruiters for over 9 months and aced both the physical as well as the ASVAB tests! His dream finally came true! We were all so proud of his decision! And that's where things started to go downhill. At the boot camp Jonathan faced a company commander worthy of the vilest movies we have all seen and who ridiculed Jonathan in front of his entire unit. Why did he pick on Jonathan? Because he would swim faster, run faster, and climb faster than anyone else, so the commander was bent on breaking him and eventually succeeded in doing so. Jonathan experienced a mental breakdown at the boot camp and was discharged honorably. At that time, we did not know that Jonathan developed a condition called Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD. This condition affects a person’s emotion control and makes you extremely vulnerable to criticism or setbacks. Like bipolar disorder, this mental illness usually manifests towards the end of adolescence. Individual suffering from this condition have extreme mood swings, have difficulty facing conflict, get involved in impulsive and risky behavior, and fall into the darkest depression if they are confronted and feel rejected or their self-esteem is hurt. 70% of people with this condition attempt suicide at least once, and unfortunately up to 20% succeed. Unlike most mental illnesses, there is no medication to cure this illness. Only ongoing therapy has been effective.

When Jonathan came home from the Coast Guard, he told us that he failed us but we all told him we don’t care and are happy to have him back home in one piece. However, he was never the same after this incident.

To find rest for his depression and anxiety, Jonathan turned to drugs. It started with marijuana but soon transitioned into heavier drugs. We did everything possible to try to help by sending him to therapists and psychiatrists and trying all sort of medications to ease his pain. We even sent him over to Israel to live with my sister, Joanna, so he could stay away from his drug friends and start a new life but his struggles continued. Every time he ran into a challenging life experience like rejection or criticism, he was unable to handle it, could not control his emotions, and would revert back to drugs to help ease his pain.

Gone, But Never Forgotten

After an overdose attempt in Israel he flew to California and joined Oaks Forest Recovery in September 2018. While at the program, under the guidance of wonderful people like RJ, Jerry, Dr. Miriam and others, we saw a huge improvement in his social skills as well as his self-esteem and freedom from drugs. My parents who lives close by, were very involved and did everything they could to ensure he got a good treatment and visited him often to cheer him up. In January 2019, Jonathan left the program and flew back to Texas and moved into his first apartment at Grapevine with his best friend, Michael. Things looked good at first, but sadly, his dependency on drugs to deal with his condition continued and another overdose attempt took place. He ended up at the hospital but thankfully recovered quickly. This time he was determined to quit and actually stayed free of drugs for over a year! We were all so proud of him!

In August 2019, Jonathan moved into a new apartment in Bedford, got a new job and started trading and investing. He did so well that he more than doubled his investments and was able to pay for his rent on his own. Things were getting better every day. We were all so hopeful. He then fell in love with a beautiful girl named Alisha and even got engaged. But then, due to ongoing petty arguments, they broke up and he met another girl who he believed was the perfect girl that he will end up marrying. Life seemed good and she moved in with him in March, 2020. We all celebrated and hoped for the best. He described to us his future family and how many children he wanted to have with her. Everything was going so well! But then suddenly, without notice, she left him without a good explanation. He couldn’t understand why. He tried to get back with her but she treated him in the cruelest way imaginable! The world collapsed around him. He didn’t know how to deal with it emotionally. He sank deeper and deeper into depression in spite of all our efforts to encourage him. We took him to his therapist to see if he could help but without a good understanding of BPD, it only made things worse. Then there was a glimmer of hope. Jonathan told me he was moving past the girl and purchased a new car. He had plans of starting a new business in Austin and was hopeful of the future again. But it was not to be. Out of nowhere, a drug dealer that we never met before, came over to his apartment and gave him a large supply of Benzos, the same class of drugs that almost killed him last year. The drugs turned him into a living zombie, and while being blacked out, he got a hold of a gun and on June 13, 2020, ended his own life.

I have many regrets over my son and what I could have done differently to save his life. My biggest regret is not taking his condition seriously enough and thinking that he can make it on his own without the aid of professional therapy. I now understand how important individual and group therapy is to treat BPD and other mental conditions. If I could go back in time, I would enroll my son in ongoing CBT/DBT therapy and keep him going for as long as necessary. I am rather confident that had he been involved in such therapy and had the skills to cope with emotional pain from a breakup or other struggles, things could have ended up very differently. I would encourage anyone who is struggling with drugs or mental health to continue their treatment for as long as necessary to reduce the chances of a relapse and improving their quality of life. Every day you invest in a place like Oak Forest Recovery could be the difference between life and death.

I will miss my son more than anything and will always remember him as a passionate, kind, and visionary individual. I know that in heaven he is finally free to be his true self, surrounded by the love and peace of God. I pray that all of us will have more compassion for those suffering from mental conditions and struggling with drugs and do our best to help them rather than judge them. If we can save one life, Jonathan’s death would not have been in vain!