34-year-old Samantha Adams thinks back to when her family first heard they would be living in the COVID-19 mirumiru/bubble.

Shock, concern, and an excessive amount of home-cooking are some of the things that came to mind, she says.

“I really was concerned because I’m a very social person and I get my energy and feel-good vibes from seeing other people, conversation, interaction and being outside. 

“I thought long and hard and had a lot of thoughts and a lot of chatter in my head like: ‘You can’t do this. This is going to be so hard’.”

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Samantha - or Sam as she’s known to family and friends - has a complex history and relationship with mental distress. At 19 she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and began medication. Then, six years ago, she was reassessed by a psychiatrist who ruled out her bipolar diagnosis in favour of high anxiety levels and a predisposition to depression.  

As the “chatter” in those early lockdown days showed, staying at home would be challenging. Samantha and her husband Christopher have a two-year-old son Ashton and are also expecting their second child next month. While Christopher has continued to work full-time from home, Samantha finished her work at a school prior to lockdown. 

Plans were made to ensure the family had routine throughout their weeks at home, and everyone kept busy - especially Samantha. A schedule for weekdays was set up. She and Christopher also decided they would each get to sleep longer on Saturdays and Sundays, helping to differentiate weekends from other days. However, it was not all smooth sailing.

The first two weeks were particularly hectic. Samantha says an executive decision to ignore the negative “chatter” in her head resulted in everything being “full-steam ahead”. Days involved “cooking up a storm”, making activities for Ashton, constant Skype calls and just generally “going hard-out”.

It was not sustainable. More importantly, it wasn’t her. By week two, the momentum had gone and low motivation and a wall of challenging thoughts had set in. 

“I started to think: ‘Okay, why am I doing this? Am I doing this to please other people? Am I doing this to put up photos on social media to say I’m okay?’

“I guess it really came down to what do I need at this point and what do my family need,” Samantha says. 

“We needed a stable, confident, well-rounded Sam. Just Sam. Sam who could get through her day, have a few interactions, and make sure I was really there for my family,” she says. 

First, it involved accepting the roller-coaster of thoughts and emotions that came with living through COVID-19. 

It also meant slowing down, and understanding that some days were better than others, and that everyone - including herself - was processing the situation in their own way. 

“I think the fourth week is when it all turned around,” Samantha says. “It all kind of made sense in my head. This is a time of change. Everyone is going to be affected in some way. 

“I am affected because I can’t see people,” she says. “That's not a huge thing in the scheme of things, but it is for my sanity and mental health. 

“I started to go in on my own feelings and thoughts about how I could be the real me. The authentic me. I can just take it minute by minute, hour by hour, go with the flow, and reach out when I need to and do amazing cooking when I feel creative - but there’s no expectation.”

Implementing practical things to ensure negative thoughts didn’t overwhelm her have been important. Walks, board games with her husband and connecting with family, friends and her coffee group are all part of their mirumiru/bubble activities. Speaking to Christopher about how she felt, and reinforcing they were all in it together also helped. 

“For example, if I set out a routine for Ashton and he didn’t want to do it, then that’s not on me. It was about being kind and acknowledging that things are weird for everyone at the moment.”

For herself, practising gratitude, meditation, focusing on her thoughts and reflecting on her day have been important. Samantha also points to the mental health advocacy and leadership group Rākau Roroa as another support network. She is the group’s regional leader in Auckland. 

 In many ways, navigating life in the mirumiru/bubble has involved continuing the years of work Samantha has put towards herself and her own mental health. Yes, it has been difficult, she says. But, she says, for now this is life and it is heartening to know there is a small light at the end of the tunnel as the country moves forward.