The young couple Jon Ludlow and Ivy Ho embrace in front of the Huntington Beach Pier. (Courtesy Ivy Ho and Ludlow family)

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Second of three parts. In Part 1, family members recalled how Orange County high school student Jon Ludlow went from being an athlete to a loner who required psychiatric medication. He lost interest in socializing and spent his time playing online video games.

Treating Jon Ludlow's mental health problems would be an ongoing process of trial and error in the elusive quest for stability.

His mother, Melissa, made appointments with a psychiatrist and continually looked for therapists.

She was willing to do whatever it took to help her son regain balance as he began to face major depression and social anxiety disorder. The child of her close friend had committed suicide, and that story was always in the back of her mind.

Although Dave, the teen's father, had been counting on Melissa to look for a job when they moved to California, Melissa made Jon the focus of her attention.

"It wasn't a sacrifice," she said. "When your children are in need, you're there for them."

As Jon began to try the prescriptions for mental health medications, Melissa also moved back to Utah with him to see if that might help.

To her disappointment, he still felt isolated. One of the antidepressants — Lexapro — had made him gain weight, and he felt that people didn't recognize him.

After less than a year, she and her son returned to Orange County, where Dave had continued working.

*

Back in California, Jon attended online high school, as did several others in his church. With help from the medicine, he seemed fairly happy to his mom, albeit less than social.

He grew close with his older brother, Devin, who had moved home, discussing everything from politics to astronomy. But beyond relationships with his family members, Jon seemed poised to live a solitary life.

And then he fell in love.

A 17-year-old girl named Ivy Ho, photographed in a long-sleeved, pink blouse, caught his attention on an online dating service, Zoosk, so Jon messaged her.

At first, Ivy ignored him. But Jon persisted, paying a fee to message her again. To his parents' astonishment, he and Ivy planned a first date — and it went well.

Jon lacked a driver's license, but Melissa, whose son had hardly left his room in three years, gladly drove him the 40 minutes to pick Ivy up at home. The Ludlows lived in Aliso Viejo at the time.

The patient mother went shopping nearby as her son went on his first date, a movie at The Outlets at Orange.

Ivy had picked a horror film with hopes of holding onto Jon during the scary parts. But the nervous teen spent the whole time seated stoically upright with his hands placed firmly on his knees.

She hadn't realized he was so shy, but she wasn't dissuaded. Skinny, with her dark black hair shaped in a pixie cut, Ivy's bold personality defied her small size.

She persisted in efforts to make the date work with this stranger, listening after the movie ended as Jon began to open up to her in a frozen-yogurt shop.

Jon showed her the webbed space between his second and third fingers. He confided his plans to have surgery to fix it.

Ivy told him that was a silly idea. What made him unique should be embraced.

As they walked back to the car, she laced her fingers between his, a sight his mom glimpsed with joy before they saw her pulling up and let go.

*

To Ivy, who moved to the United States from Vietnam almost three years before, Jon seemed generous and understanding.

Recounting stories of their time as a couple, she smiles and laughs often — still full of love for Jon.

He bought her flowers and gave her chocolates. When they went to the beach, Jon wiped sand off of her feet. If her toes grew cold during a movie, he gave her his shoes.

Melissa and Dave were thrilled by the young love. Jon, whom others had cared for throughout so much of his life, seemed to have found the strength to take care of both himself and someone else.

She was the medicine he needed to feel strong, alive and complete, Jon would later write.

He got his driver's license. He enrolled in Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. As class approached, he began making plans to move into his own apartment near South Coast Plaza.

In retrospect, the radical turnaround may have built up too many stresses for their son, but Jon's parents at the time saw only an increasingly happy young adult.

*

Melissa checked in on Jon by text nearly every day after he moved from the family's home. He messaged her about the electronic music he was making and told her that it helped him to relax. He reported back on expenditures for daily items like groceries and school supplies.

While Jon continued to have his struggles, the texts reassured her of his enduring resilience. He told his mom about a bad grade, his trouble focusing and a class he had to drop, but he also told her he looked forward to a computer science career, knew he hadn't handled the transition into college perfectly and wanted to figure out how to manage his schedule so he could study more. He even bought his own desk.

"I think or I know next semester will be better as I've learned from my mistakes," he wrote to her in mid-November. "Like keep taking my prozac so I stay stable. When im stable i can just get up and go, force myself to study etc. Can't forget that I spent 4 years a recluse because going outside made me sad about life. So I'm not disappointed but I'm motivated to take more next semester and keep up."

Still, Jon's sense of optimism could be shaky.

He experimented with the balance of his medication. Sometimes he took an extra Adderall, a stimulant commonly used to treat Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and it gave him trouble sleeping. He wanted to increase his dosage of Xanax, which is used to treat anxiety and panic disorder, because of the stress from his tests. He tried skipping Prozac, an antidepressant, and fell prey to his emotions: crying without clear cause and considering breaking up with Ivy.

"Every time I reach a distinct low," he wrote on Facebook in October, "I then can realize what I had when I was I was up high. I realize I need to get back to that. It's a journey every time to get out of that pit, to get out of that slump. but you know, maybe that's life and realizing if we don't feel these lows then you might just get numb to flying."

He wrote a few weeks later, "Just want consistency."

*

Every person on medication like Jon's has a story about stopping, explained Tom Loats, the director of behavioral medicine at St. Joseph's Hospital in Orange.

Different drugs cause different side effects. Weight gain. Dry mouth. Fuzzy thinking.

Patients must accept when they have a brain disease and work to control it, he said.

They must conquer whatever they are feeling with an understanding that a disease is causing those feelings — not an easy thing to do.

"It's a trade-off," Loats said. "You've got some pretty severe symptoms that wreak havoc on you and your brain disease, or you can settle for something that is an annoyance but is going to offer you some consistency and some rational thinking, some stable mood."

Even though Jon knew he should take the Prozac consistently, he hated the way it made him feel. The drugs made him disinterested in the world around him and "emotionally a bit numb," he messaged his mom in one instance, or "like a dull horrible veil of boring-ness," he said in another.

If he didn't take it, his mind felt clearer and faster, he said. He also worried that continuing to take it would make him feel suicidal.

In addition to the pills, Jon also had a medical marijuana card to help him handle the insomnia caused by the Adderall. He told Melissa that he tried to be careful with the marijuana strains he chose.

His mom remained the bedrock for him. He wanted to show her the new shampoo he had found. He thanked her for her support.

"Love my mom. Well.. (lol) I don't let her be my friend on fb cause that's awkward," he posted on Facebook, adding an image of a smiley face, "but she is probably the best mom in the world and anyone close to me could agree. Always supporting when I need it the most."

*

In December, Jon decided to take a two-week break from Xanax and Adderall.

Then, on Dec. 12, Melissa received a text that he planned to stop taking Prozac too, but he promised to slowly taper off.

Instead, his parents came to believe, Jon quit taking the medicine cold turkey. His thoughts became increasingly less rational. His speech grew manic.

"Hi I feel so anxious no xanax or adderall and I think Ivy is getting tired of my racing mid so we'd love to come down to relax etc.," he wrote to his mom on Dec. 18. "Kind o feeling some heavy withdrawal from that an dprozac too. Feeling realy paranoid and stuff."

His doctor had left town for vacation. No one was on call, so his mom wasn't able to schedule an appointment for him until January.

Each day brought a new problem to solve. On Jan. 3, Jon, now 19 years old, ran out of gas and sat on the roadside listening to music until his mom called to check on him. He refused to stay at his parent's home that night.

He told them he wanted to sleep at his apartment, but he drove to Las Vegas, later insisting bands wanted to meet with him and had been communicating with him through patterns on his phone. His family scurried to retrieve him and bring him home.

*

The day Jon didn't communicate with her, Melissa arrived at his apartment along with Ivy to find her fears confirmed. The room stood empty.

Still, Jon couldn't have gone far, she thought, thankful that she and her husband had confiscated the keys to their teenager's car after his trip to Las Vegas. He had also lost the bike they had lent him.

She and Ivy patrolled the nearby streets and called the local game stores. No luck. They decided to swing by Jon's apartment in the South Coast Metro area once again.

Pulling toward the building's gate, she overheard a taxi driver talking excitedly with a security guard about a tenant who had jumped from his car without paying the cab fare.

She asked for details.

A white guy wearing jeans ditched a $150 fare, the cab driver said, turning toward Melissa to see a rectangular face of striking resemblance to the suspect's, framed by straight blond hair that reached just below her shoulders.

The conjecture was immediate. That suspect was Jon.

Melissa paid the fare, adding to a $300 charge Jon had made during an impromptu shopping spree at Forever 21 the day before, Jan. 6. The driver canceled the call he'd placed to the police.

Soon joined by her husband and Devin, she and Ivy continued their search. When they returned later, the light in his apartment had been turned on. Melissa parked the car on the street and cut the engine.

Ivy, with whom he had broken up days before, went to try to talk with him.

Part 1 | Part 3