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Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.

This week, we hear from Crystal Preston-Watson, 39. She lives in Denver and is a quality engineer for a software company who specializes in accessibility.

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My history with anxiety

I wasn’t officially diagnosed with social anxiety disorder until my mid-20s but I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories was playing outside by myself and feeling this overwhelming sense of doom come over me. I ended up on the ground and stared up at the sky to calm myself. Moments like that happened frequently throughout my childhood, but as a teenager it intensified. I retreated into myself as my home life became more dysfunctional. I did my best to avoid any social interaction and rarely spoke in public.

Going off to college added depression into the mix which led to a vicious cycle of anxiety, depression and self-sabotage that lasted over well over a decade. Recently, after some reflection and dealing with some of my long-held biases I started taking medication. I am happy I did.

How anxiety presents itself physically

I have quite a few physical manifestations of anxiety. Chest tightness, stomachaches and hives, but I consider insomnia to be the worst. When my anxiety is out of control, I will sleep less than five hours a night. My mind will not turn off. I might finally be able to fall asleep by midnight, but by 4:45 a.m. my mind racing.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

That sense of doom and fear that I had as a kid still persists. It feeds into my procrastination especially when it comes to writing emails, making phone calls or any contact with other people. My inner dialogue becomes rather harsh when I have anxiety around tasks or projects. It’s like comedy roast but none of it is funny.

What a day when my anxiety is at its worst looks like

It becomes almost impossible for me to leave my house. I will avoid everyone but my husband and cats. I will get lost and overwhelmed in my thoughts.

My go-to coping mechanism

When I was younger, reading was the only way I knew how to cope with anything that troubled me. I could escape in books. They allowed me to break from my reality. I would carry at least two books with me at all times so I would never be caught without something to read. As I got older, I started listening listening to music and playing video games. Since I have gotten married, my husband has been great about getting me to talk about things that are troubling me. He will recognize when I am pulling inward.

What I wish people knew about anxiety

Not everyone experiences anxiety the same way. The way my anxiety presents itself might differ from someone else and that doesn’t make it lesser or inauthentic. Anxiety doesn’t always look like how it’s portrayed in TV and movies. There is a great deal of social stigma around mental illness in general. Many people buy into the false belief that you can overcome these issues through willpower or self-discipline. I know I did. Mental illness isn’t a choice. I want to break the stigma and let people know it’s okay to seek help and treatment. This life is not easy and no one else can live yours for you. So do whatever is best for you to get through it.

This is what helps with my anxiety: ‘Giving people the opportunity to understand’

I’m trying to talk more openly about my ongoing struggles

‘It feels like my body is literally caving in’: This is how I experience anxiety

‘No one understands the paranoia’

Positive affirmations and playing solitaire: This is what helps with my anxiety

The presence of anxiety is a constant in my life