I cannot fathom the fact that it has been over three years since I lost my father.

I don’t talk about it much, but I think about it every single day.

“Was he sick?” people ask in the rare occasion that I bring it up.

That is usually followed by a prolonged pause and an uncomfortable conversation where I have to explain that we had no idea that yes, he actually was sick.

He was battling a deadly disease, but not the kind that require hospital visits and expensive medical bills.

His illness was invisible.

The signs and symptoms weren’t there.

Even when he was sick you would never find him without a smile on his face, that contagious, beautiful smile and those glowing blue eyes so full of love and compassion.

But then something changed. Maybe suddenly, or maybe over time.

How did I not notice?

This is something I ask myself every day.

The light in his eyes slowly began to fade like a candle that has burnt to the bottom.

How did I not see it coming?

June 29, 2016 changed my life forever. The plague that is suicide found its way into my home and stole my happiness away.

It took my father from me, so quickly, so suddenly and without hesitation, without an explanation.

When your body feels sick you go to the doctor. You get help to relieve the pain that you are in. Why is mental health not treated the same way?

My father was the type of person that always put others before himself, bearing the burdens of others on top of his own. He was a helping hand for anyone that needed it, but he never reached his hand out for help when he needed it himself.

It’s not the anniversary of his death that gets to me or even his empty recliner in the living room that’s still worn from years of sawdust-covered boots wearing away at the red leather.

It’s when I hear someone joke about wanting to kill themselves or how they wish they weren’t alive. When did we forget how beautiful life can truly be?

I will never understand how the happiest people are sometimes also the saddest.

Depression can wear a smile but cry on the inside. Anxiety can laugh but worry if the joke was actually funny.

Yet, there is always a glimmer of hope.

I was reminded of this in the simplest way as I was stressed and in a rush to a busy day full of classes and work. For one second I stopped to notice a chalk art on the sidewalk of the Quad.

“It’s okay not to be okay” was written in blue and pink bold block letters.

As part of Suicide Prevention Month a group of Illinois State University students decided to bring hope to the campus by chalking the Quad and surrounding campus with words of encouragement.

The last words I spoke to my father were fighting words. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could have shown him the same love and compassion that he always showed others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 41,000 people die by suicide each year.

I am breaking my silence and sharing my story in hopes that others will understand that you are never alone in your battle against mental health.

So #LetsChalkAboutMentalHealth, and more importantly talk about it, this month and every month.

GRACE BARBIC is the News Editor for The Vidette. She can be contacted at mgbarbi@ilstu.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @gracebarbic

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