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Where are they now: Featuring Josh Pogonitz, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

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Josh Pogonitz

Hi! My name is Josh Pogonitz. I am 18 years-old and I live in Skokie, IL. The high school I went to is Ida Crown Jewish Academy. Currently, I am taking a gap year in Israel at a yeshiva located in Jerusalem called “Yeshivat Torah Vi’Avodah.” This upcoming Summer, I plan on working at a Jewish overnight camp called Moshava, Wild Rose, where I was a camper for four summers. In the Fall, I plan on attending Loyola University Chicago.

Throughout my life, I have struggled with anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and depression. During my sophomore and junior years, I struggled with self harm and suicidal ideation. I attended treatment programs. This journey is when for the first time in a long time, I rediscovered happiness and life worth living. This is also when I grew very passionate about mental health awareness. 

Before I went to those treatment programs, I never spoke publicly about my mental health. The reason why I started afterwards is because once I found hope and joy again, I wanted to help others find their hope and joy. Two of my struggles are feeling like an exception to therapy helping and feeling like I was a terrible person. I was so certain that the only way to feel happiness would be if I was just a better and good enough person. I felt this way for many years and so when I was able to view things differently, once I was able to fight my thoughts from imprisoning me for the first times in a long time, I thought that if I could share my experiences and what I’ve learned, then it could help people who are also struggling and who feel so certain that nobody can help them. 

During my senior year of high school last year, I was nominated to be a JUF 18 Under 18 honoree. Springboard allowed me to continue pursuing mental health awareness as I did so for my impact project. I would like to thank Springboard for the incredible experiences I had. It was such a learning opportunity and gave me a foundation that I can forever use during my further journey in mental health awareness.

This past December 2020, after speaking at mental health organization No Shame On U’s annual event in November 2019, I wrote an article for the organization’s annual report. The article included my personal mental health experiences, my experience of speaking at the annual event, and about my 18 Under 18 project itself. This past January, I spoke on Zoom with the head of No Shame On U, Miriam Ament, to the eighth grade class of Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School. I spoke about my own personal struggles and lessons I’ve learned along the way. 

As I wrote before, this year I am taking a gap year at a yeshiva in Israel. It has been a year filled with many valuable, meaningful, important, and unforgettable experiences despite COVID. I have been able to continue learning Torah, learning about my mind and emotions, and see, as well as experience the land. Going on this gap year is really one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 

One of the many incredible experiences I’ve had was during my Passover break, I went on a program in which I volunteered on a kibbutz and army base. For the first time in my life, I was able to experience two places I always wondered what they were like. Volunteering and living at both places for a few days each were beyond cool and nothing I had ever done before. It was also a way for me to give back to Israel for my time here this year.  

Lastly, one of the many meaningful realizations that I have been able to continue to strengthen this year is as follows. My goal for combatting my mental illnesses is to manage them, not to cure them. When I started making progress during my junior year, I used to worry that when I had a setback, all of my progress would disappear. I have learned that there may be times of anxiety and depression while at the same time, that doesn’t take away from any of the progress being made. In the big picture, there can be anxiety and also happiness. During my gap year, I have struggled. And at the same time, I am having many meaningful, happy, exciting, fun, and inspiring experiences. In fact, I have even discovered new things I never knew I loved. I was able to graduate high school last year, I have been able to live away from home for eight months, I can meet with my therapist weekly, and still do what I love and live my life. 

Once again, I’d like to thank Springboard for giving me the honor and opportunity to be an 18 Under 18 Honoree. This journey is just the beginning as I hope to continue pursuing mental health awareness however I can at Loyola University Chicago and the future beyond.

Biography

Josh is currently taking a gap year at a yeshiva in Israel. For high school, he attended Ida Crown Jewish Academy. He played basketball there for three years and ran cross country for four years. During November of Josh’s senior year, he gave a speech at mental health organization No Shame On U’s annual event. This was the first time he spoke publicly about his struggles and experiences of mental illnesses. This Summer, Josh plans on working at Camp Moshava, Wild Rose and then plans to attend Loyola University Chicago in the Fall.  

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