It’s very rare I write a personal post but this is well overdue. I want to make a public apology to two people, the owners of Coffee & Heroes in Belfast. Why public? I want Alan and Vicki to know I’m serious, there were also people in the shop’s community I considered friends and I want to reach out to them too, and I also think I need it for myself.

Last year I was increasingly paranoid and isolated over Covid. I hardly left the house, only to get food or for my weekly trip to Coffee & Heroes to spend an afternoon having plenty of laughs. It was a bit of normalcy, I could forget about the pandemic whilst knowing I was safe thanks to people I trusted. I’d started to see them outside the shop too (Alan and Vicki lived one street from me) and took trips to butchers and different supermarkets for nice food. (A lot of conversations with Vicki and regular coffee addict Roy revolved around this subject.)

Then Vicki informed me someone had reported the shop for allegedly breaking guidelines, which was ridiculous and just not true. I didn’t know who did that and I don’t want to know in case it was someone I liked, given what happened next. The Covid paranoia suddenly changed how I felt about the shop, a place I knew was safe and welcoming. We ended up in a horrible heated exchange over it. It was all my fault. This “paranoia” isn’t an excuse, the hermit-like state I’d got myself into was completely of my own doing. I couldn’t see it at the time though and I feel like shit for falling out and never returning to the shop.

My friends were worried too. They knew Coffee & Heroes had kept me going but now I became a recluse. It wasn’t healthy. Now I was never leaving the house because when I did I was so stressed out I felt ill. Going food shopping, something I used to enjoy, was an ordeal and panic-inducing. It got to the stage that several months later one of my closets friends (another Vicki) had to trick me into going out for lunch with her, telling me we were heading to her house and instead she drove us to a nice seaside cafe. I’ll admit it was really difficult but I knew I had to do it! I knew my life was messed up, my mental and physical health were deteriorating and I was just as worried about that as I was about Covid.

Bit by bit my friends helped me get my life back. I saw Bond in the cinema a day before the end of restrictions (not sure if me at the time would’ve gone later) and it really helped. So did Christmas with my friends. I now feel like life is returning to normal. I’m still being careful, I have vulnerable people in my life (so I mask up where advised, carry hand sanitiser and I’m boosted), but I’m also getting on with my life. Only recently I began going to big events again for the first time since this began and from one of them I actually did catch Covid. Ironically, getting the thing I’d tried so hard to avoid helped me gain the confidence I needed to get my life back. I’m being careful and trusting of those around me and life is good.

In other words, I kind of feel how I did every time I went to Coffee & Heroes! I’m happier, relaxed and trusting. If only I’d taken the example of those wonderful people in that shop and applied it to everything else. But anyway, I miss the shop, I miss the people and to Alan and Vicki I am truly sorry for what happened. None of this is meant to excuse any of my behaviour, just to explain what happened. And if it can help anyone still locked in that Covid fear, to show that you can get out of it, then that’s a bonus.

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