Express talks to notable members of our LGBTQ+ community to find out how they are doing in Level 4 Lockdown and hear their tips for maintaining mental health in self-isolation. Here we talk to NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director Sarah Helm!
Tell us about your Level 4 Lockdown – where are you?
I am in my old cottage on a sand dune in Paekākāriki, which is a pretty lucky place to be locked down in. A beach and a large park, which is a beautiful spot for biking and walking. And a caring community.
Who’s in your bubble?
Technically my bubble includes my two delightful kids (8 and 11 years old) and by extension their other mum, my ex-partner. But at the moment I am tucked up by myself and my children’s pets Flopsy (aka Snoop Dog) the mini-lop rabbit, and Snowy the budgie.
And what are you doing to keep your mental health in check?
It is really normal to be anxious and upset at the moment. I was discussing with my Drug Foundation colleagues, that we are all further along the spectrum of mental distress than we normally would be. Please be kind on yourself if you are feeling anxious. Reach out to others – whether it’s a helpline, someone online, a friend, or a loved one. We all need contact with others to be well.
I was really anxious and upset on day one. I was travelling back from Auckland when the lockdown was announced. And actually came down sick on the way home. I have returned a negative COVID-19 test since. But it was a bit overwhelming for a bit there.
What are your top tips for express readers who are struggling with self-isolation?
Well, with my work hat on, if you are using drugs in lockdown:
- Consider when and where you use in your changed situation being in a bubble to limit the impact of your drug use on those around you.
- Consider your mood – anxious feelings may be more intense under the influence of drugs, or in the recovery afterwards.
- And use clean equipment. Needle exchanges are still open with limited services and hours.
And don’t get your drug information from Reddit or someone’s dodgy cousin.
We have put together this reliable and straight-up guide for people who use drugs: https://thelevel.org.nz/
This time also may have you reflecting on your drug use. We’ve partnered with New Zealand AIDS Foundation to deliver Rewired, a free, safe, and non-judgemental space for men who have sex with other men and use meth. The next Rewired programme for 2021 runs every Thursday from 9 September – 28 October. Registration is confidential https://www.endinghiv.org.nz/…/chemsex-doco-and-support/
What is the most positive aspect of self-isolation you’ve experienced so far?
I have a brand new pair of ultra-comfortable, soft bamboo lounge pants, which are a delight everyone should experience and no one should ever see me in.
What plans do you have between now end of lockdown?
We are hoping Alert Levels will change enough to celebrate my son’s 11th birthday. Aside from that work, parenting and baking sourdough – actually that last bit is a lie. But I do hope to get into the garden.
What are you missing most about ‘normal life’?
Always friends and social events.
What will be the first thing that you can’t wait to do when regular life resumes?
The gym. Going out dancing, to music gigs and dating!
Moving forward is there anything you think you will change about your life following self-isolation?
After the lockdown last year, I took up cycling and that has stuck with me. It’s probably time to get myself a better bike.
Is there a closing message you would like to share with our gorgeous LGBTI+ community?
Be kind to yourself and your rainbow family – if you are feeling ok reach out to your friends and check they are. The smallest and greatest question you can ask is: “how are you?”. This helps. Special Aroha to bisexual members of the community, who aren’t always seen or understood!