London often reminds me of my fears. Big crowds, constant noise, and lifts (seriously, I have climbed 12 flights of stairs because those small metal boxes aren’t for me). Though there is still a part of me that romanticises living there, and I do get unnatural levels of dopamine when I think about the Elizabeth line, deep down I know my life wouldn’t be the tube-hopping paradise I sometimes imagine it to be.

Nevertheless, one of my friends has now moved there, and so I am in the fortunate position of living vicariously through her city-girl adventures. Over message, I’ve transported myself bank side and crossed the Thames on my way to lectures. I’ve even dreamed up London coffee fits to wear after a 9.A.M. That might be taking it too far, but what else am I meant to do with my free time?

However, when it comes to experiencing London in person, I am a lot more scared. I can’t pick and choose what bits of London I want to experience. There is also no guaranteed comfort zone. Some might say that is a good thing – to visit London would be to conquer a lot of fears, but I have so many that to face them all at once sounds at least unsuccessful, if not impossible. The happiness that comes from being able to see my friend does definitely override being frightened of crowds, but I will have to take everything one step at a time.

The first on my list is the train journey. This is something I have usually enjoyed until GWR became the other half in my new, toxic relationship. She has started to cancel plans last minute, her apologies are soulless, and now she’s pushing away my friends (Thameslink please come back to me). The only rational solution was to spend the entire journey listening to Taylor Swift and looking dramatically out the window. Standing at Reading station, I heard GWR whisper you’re on your own, kid and was forced in a getaway car to waterloo. If I take anything away from this trip to London, it will be the realisation that my attachment issues are inclusive of the National Rail.

Because of the delay my tube trip was at midday and unusually relaxing, almost therapeutic. I felt very peaceful as I arrived into Southwark, train journey now complete, and thus my focus could shift to the next important task: finding coffee. As I walked out of the station I started to feel quite anxious, hit with multisensory activity and unable to tune it out or process it. This, of course, isn’t particular to London, but it is this precise overwhelming of senses that I usually take great effort to avoid. I find it difficult not just to concentrate, but even to remember where I am and what I am meant to be doing. The desire to sit down and close my eyes and wait for things to be quiet is all I can think about, but it is not the most sensible decision. Luckily I am now quite used to this feeling and most of the time can control it. I turn the music in my headphones up until I cannot hear anything going on externally. I am aware that this is perhaps not facing fears ‘directly’, but it works right now, so I am happy.

One great thing about London is the gorgeous and endless list of cafes. My serotonin peaks when I spot the third place to be decorated with plants and serving heaven in ceramic mugs. But the one I chose had an added feature that just made my heart too happy: typewriter font. There is something about seeing cappuccino printed as though it was going to be sent to a foreign ambassador during the Cold War that just wins me over. They have a nice espresso machine too, but it’s the character of their characters that has pulled me in to order. On reflection, I gather this kind of monochrome, minimalist atmosphere is not unique and perhaps even a trademark of modern consumer culture. But finding such cosy and leafy spaces never fails to soothe me. I sometimes think the experience of a coffee shop is like a gentle mode of exorcism: it expels the morning fog and grounds me in the present. Though it is certainly an expensive hobby, when I get it right it makes my week.

The rest of the hours pass with my friend like drops of rain, falling from the tip of a round leaf. They are so slow and graceful that you hardly notice they are even happening. Our babble sways between all sorts of worry, but always interwoven with companionship and excitement for the future. In our corner we are safe to expel our anxieties, or laugh at the quirkiness of being alive, or giggle at the likelihood of me writing this down all soppy in a journal later.

When I talk about conquering fears, I mean this. I couldn’t possibly mean anything else. I frankly do not want to face things on my own and can’t be arsed to fulfil the title of ‘strong, independent woman’. I do want to face my fears, but slowly and with other people to help. Yes, the journey to ‘conquering’ will be a lot longer and less efficient, but it will also be a lot more shared and a lot more happy. If it takes me a lifetime to not feel overwhelmed in cities, so be it. At least it gives me a lifetime to complain about it and articulate the struggle by way of Taylor Swift lyrics.