Not all lockdowns are equal! Ben Payne is isolating at his parent’s farm in Geraldine on the South Island. He is missing the mountains, the gym, and conversations outside of his bubble!

Tell us about your Level 4 Lockdown – where are you and who is in your bubble?

It’s a gloomy grey day on the mainland today. I am locked down in the usually humming LGBT mecca of Geraldine in central South Canterbury. My sarcasm is fully intended!


My bubble includes my mum, dad, and our border collie called Bryn. The food is great, the gin and tonic is served at 5pm, but as you can imagine after nearly two weeks of Level 4, the conversation is SUB-PAR. We’ve officially run out of things to talk about!

What are you doing to keep your mental health in check?

It’s a bit subjective as to whether I was mentally sound to start with. But I’m generally an active person, so lockdown turns me into a bit of a caged lion. Usually, I enjoy going to the gym to break up my workdays and getting out in the mountains hiking and skiing on the weekends.

Having to keep things close to home is tough, but I’m lucky cause I can get out on the farm to break up working. 

I go for a run every second day and my challenge to get our boisterous 1-year-old border collie to trail, heal and wait as a running partner, is certainly a work in progress. Mum’s garden is looking very well pruned (she thinks a little too ruthlessly) and weed-free. 

I find I have to change up my routine to keep sane(ish)!

What are your top tips for express readers who are struggling with self-isolation?

I’m no lockdown pro. But in general, I think the following tips are important: 

  1. Remember you’re not alone. If you’re feeling isolated or flat, reach out to someone (even send me a message)! 

Lots of people are battling right now. 

We’ve had a good run of keeping normality here in New Zealand. But because of this, the current Level 4 came as a bit of a punch in the guts. 

I’ve heard it described as Deja Vu, as we rapidly snapped into lockdown with the added concern of the infectious Delta Variant, and the occasional feeling that ‘the grass might be greener’ in other places and the US, UK, and Europe open up. That’s certainly not the case and we need to ‘hold the course’!  

2. Don’t beat yourself up! 

As the saying goes, we are our own worst critics. We’re all having to go with the ‘Covid Flow’ right now, so don’t beat yourself up about having a shitty day, being unproductive, eating too much, feeling down! 

2. Be present and check-in with yourself! 

Sounds all a bit ‘inner zen’ yoga daddy from me, which is ironic given that I can’t touch my toes. However, I find it useful to go somewhere peaceful, to sit in the sun and switch off for 15/20 minutes. DON’T take your phone! 

I find this ‘meditation’ valuable when I’m anxious and need to re-centre myself. I’m not super intense about not letting my mind wander, but it’s good to take the time to STOP. 

3. Don’t spend your whole lockdown on social media. Be practical and break your day up into shorter activities. 

If Steven Oates can get off the book of Face, Instagram (and the golden pages) for lockdown, so can we!

4. If you haven’t already, book to get vaccinated! 

If you’re hesitant, do your research, talk to people, and be informed. Realistically, achieving high national vaccination rates is the only way out of the Covid-19 (now 2021) mess.  

What are you missing most about ‘normal life’?

The ability to move around freely, go to Auckland or Wellington when I’ve had enough of my life in the country, and those types of luxuries. 

Going skiing most weekends! There has been so much great snow that has gone to waste over the last couple of weeks (first world problem, I am well aware!). 

Leaving the farm to go to the gym, grab a coffee with a friend, and so on. I’m a social guy, and it’s those small things that I miss. 

What will be the first thing that you can’t wait to do when regular life resumes?

The first thing I will do when normal life resumes is catch up with some friends for some drinks in the sun. Unlike the last level 4, the flipside of this lockdown is that we will be so much closer to summer. The beaches are calling! 

Moving forward is there anything you think you will change about your life following self-isolation?

During this lockdown, I have started a new role remote from Abu Dhabi, while also completing my previous role at the United Nations in Geneva. Both have involved very different time zones, and while I have been productive, it has been a really intense time and I’m feeling pretty burned out. It’s so easy to work all hours in lockdown. 

Over the last week, I have focused on being much more strategic and disciplined with my time boxing to provide time for SWITCHING OFF and mental rest so I don’t end up fully cooked. I hope this is a discipline that I can bring into my life following isolation. 

Is there a closing message you would like to share with our LGBTQI+ community?

Look out for each other.  

Be generous with your words. Some of our community are doing it harder than others, so please think before you speak.  

We will get through this phase of lockdown, just like last year. This isn’t permanent. 

Reach out if you’re feeling isolated! I’m always keen for a yarn.