01 April 2020 - Personal stories
Joe Webster, Feldenkrais Practitioner,Qi Gong Teacher & Well-being and Body-Mindfulness Speaker

Don’t let social distancing turn into social isolation!

I have already spent three months in social isolation.
No, not because of the Corona Virus. I didn’t have some infectious disease or something that I could pass to other people, but I was unwell, unhealthy in a very real and tangible way. I stayed in my bed mostly, hardly venturing out of my house or even out of my room, I ordered takeaway instead of going to the shop that was 3 minutes walk away. I cancelled meet ups with my friends last minute with shitty excuses, I even distanced myself from my family, the people that loved and cared about me most.
My self isolation was self imposed, I did it out of necessity. I was suffering from severe anxiety and staying inside and shutting myself off from the world was the only way I knew that could keep me safe. It stopped me from feeling the terror of having another anxiety attack.
My choice to self isolate came at a cost, and I don’t mean losing my friends or family, they were there for me, they were always there for me. The cost was to myself, through isolating myself I had lost any chance of accessing the one thing that could help me heal, the one thing that could change the state of mind I was in. And that was other people.
You see, we need each other, and I don’t mean in some wishy washy emotional sense, even though that is probably true as well. I mean physically, biologically we need each other. There have been studies done on children in early childhood, that have clearly demonstrated that when a parent ignores the child for a prolonged period that child becomes traumatised. Not knowing why the loss of connection has occurred and not having the emotional tools to resolve it does something really really bad to our psyche.
I was a grown man who was in his early thirties when this all happened. But what I didn’t understand at the time was that by shutting myself off from other people I had lost the opportunity to understand that they didn’t mind that I was anxious, that they didn’t even see it in many instances, and that they were there for me regardless of what I was going through. That gracious offering is otherwise known as acceptance and if you have ever truly felt it from another human being, then you know just how valuable it really is.
What made it worse for me was that I was suffering from a particularly beautiful form of anxiety called social anxiety. Where just being around people would trigger sensations and thoughts that felt like a juggernaut crashing through me. I felt powerless and frightened, and so I isolated myself.
So how exactly did I get myself out of that time in my life to where I am today, five years later, teaching others how to manage their mental and physical health?
I think the answer to that is deep down inside me, or inside all of us for that matter. Deep down I knew I needed people, I knew I needed connection and I needed love, but it was going to take a lot of work to get me to the point that I could socialise again, or have a relationship, or be close to someone (physically or psychologically).
I had to go on my own journey with it and part of that journey was training to be a Feldenkrais teacher, and I know I go on about that way too much on my social media, but that’s because it means so much to me. It helped me out of one of the worse to periods of my life, where I was alone and isolated from the world.
The decision to start the training was a massive life choice for me, and one that gave me hope. The Feldenkrais lessons were the only thing that I had found that really settled my mind and body back down after an anxiety attack. So I knew it was something that was worth pursuing.
But imagine it, the first day of the Feldenkrais training and I am in a group of over 70 people, none of which I knew. That alone was enough to make me run out of the room, back to my room and not come out for another month. But I really wanted to be there. I wanted to learn how to get myself out of the situation I was in, so I stayed. It was uncomfortable at times, but it got more comfortable, I got more comfortable.
What I didn’t know yet was that over the four years it would become a way of helping me reconnect with people, a way I could feel safe in connection with others, a way of feeling accepted and part of life again.
During this really weird period where we are all isolated from each other, I want to share this story with you all, one that I haven’t really shared publicly, only talking about it genuinely with a few close friends. The reason I want to share it is because while we are all physically separated, there are going to be people that cannot deal with that well, people that need the comfort and safety that being close to other people gives them, people that have a habit of separating themselves when things get bad. And it’s for those people that I wanted to share this, firstly to grow awareness of the issues around anxiety that many people face, but also because this is the time that we all need each other the most. We need to be there for each other, without actually being there.
So while we are all self isolating, whilst the country is in lock down, these are the moments that we can all reach down inside ourselves and feel that bit of us that needs people, that needs the love and support of their friends and family, and I hope that that part of us, is also the same place that will convince us to reach out to others, to look after those in a vulnerable position, whether that is physical vulnerability or psychological.
DO isolate to help stop Corona virus! But DON’T isolate yourself from the people you need, or the people that need you. Because that doesn’t end well either.
Stay well,