Posted on: 2010-05-21
"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."
"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault -- because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."
Darcy smiled, and said, "You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you, can think any thing wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers."
From Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," Chapter 31.
Somewhere in a modern, small, developed-world city with a temperate climate, in the early evening of the first Tuesday of May, a young woman was wrapped in her thoughts as she drove across her home town:
It was a typical spring evening. The sun was setting in glorious colours, and the rhododendrons were in the height of their season, in full bloom. They always turn my head, but this evening, I barely noticed anything. I was sort of running on autopilot, going through the motions, not in the present. You know what I mean, when you are so distracted by worries that you realize you went through an intersection and have no memory of having done it, and wonder if you ran a red light, so you check your mirror, and breathe a huge sigh of relief when you see other cars coming through the light behind you.
Luckily traffic was light, no incidents, and the trip only took 20 minutes. I whipped my little car into the parking lot in front of the building, and found a spot near the door. I had scoped it out the day before, so I knew the layout of the lot. Even so, the lot was fuller than I had expected, and I felt very tense: the knot in my chest and my clenched teeth made it obvious. I parked, and checked the time – still twelve minutes to seven, too much ahead of time to go into the meeting. I decided to stay in the car for a bit longer.
I hate waiting in a public place where people can see me, where I feel like I am on exhibit. I decided to put on the CD that I always used to psyche myself up before going into an exam at university: Rossini's Guglielmo Tell Overture. No Bugs Bunny jokes, please.
I cranked the music up really loud, as usual. What can I say, I'm a rocker, so I listen to my classical music really loud. The whole thing is over seven minutes long and usually makes me feel more energized and assured. The big strings section makes me feel filled and big with energy, puffs up my confidence, like puffing up a balloon. It calms to the oboe. Or is it clarinet? Then it builds up to a violent whirlwind. I feel great, as long as I ignore all but the music.
I watched every person coming and going, but tried not to reveal that I was watching them. I felt that they were scrutinizing me and wondering what I was doing here sitting in my locked car in the parking lot of a commercial building that was closed for the day with blasting classical music. I noticed every single car, and wondered which of these people would be in my meeting. What were they like? What would they think of me? Would they think I didn't know what I was talking about? I felt pretty nervous. Well, to be honest, I felt like crap! I felt like ripping out of there with squealing tires and going somewhere for a nice calming glass of Shiraz. Or two.
As the music ended, I steeled myself to go into the building. Even after absorbing the energy of the overture, my whole body felt tight and my hands felt numb. I rummaged around to find a pen, and then put it between my teeth as I struggled to pick up my purse, water, clipboard, and all that stuff I haul around, then somehow managed to find the lock button on the key. I shuffled the stuff in my arms so I could I wipe my hands on my jeans as I turned towards the office tower, then I walked purposefully towards the door, my vision tunneled towards my destination.
I stopped at the door, remembering that because it was after business hours I would have to get buzzed in. I kind of panicked for a second thinking I forgot how to get buzzed in. I looked at the directory, momentarily confused. My jaw was clenched and I could barely breathe, my chest was so tight. I was feeling totally freaked out inside, but I tried my best to look like it was no big deal.
I could not remember the name of the business, just the guy that I met last time. Geoff. He was nice. Then I remembered the name I was to look for, Bishopsgate CBT Centre, breathed a bit easier, and entered the suite number on the intercom keypad. I heard the familiar voice of Geoff's receptionist, who buzzed me up. At least I had spoken to Geoff and Cassie before.
There was a somewhat elderly security guard sitting at a small table at the far end of the huge, empty, marble-and-glass foyer. I'd like to see him tackle a thief. It would take him ten minutes to get out from behind that silly little table. I had the mental image of the struggle as he tipped over his chair and got his legs caught up in the little table. Right out of a fifties comedy. The stooges.
The humour did nothing to ease my tension. My mind was not able to concentrate on anything other than that others would be looking at me and KNOW and that I will screw up for sure and then...no good can come when they find out.
As I waited for the elevator, I swore that the old guy was staring holes into the back of my head, wondering what I was up to, suspicious of me. I straightened up and struggled to think of how I could smooth my hair with all this stuff in my hands. My chest got even tighter and my palms were damp again, as I could feel the back of my neck go red under his glare. The bell sounded curiously loud, as it announced the elevator.
The trip seemed to take an eternity, and I worried that someone else would come aboard on one of the floors before I got off on the 6th floor, or if I would miss my floor and be embarrassed on another, or if I would meet a strange man in the hallway before I got to the office and he would look at me with dastardly intentions. Luckily, I was on my own in the elevator, and I had the correct floor. I relaxed an infinitesimally small amount in relief of not being accosted by an unknown stranger in the hallway.
The door that had Bishopsgate CBT Centre painted on the glass was unlocked. Cassie was waiting at the reception counter with a friendly smile. She warmly greeted me and indicated the location of the meeting room. I felt a tiny bit easier because of her welcome. For almost thirty seconds.
My anxiety increased again in anticipation of the people that I would be meeting. I walked down the corridor, super slowly (for me), trying to brace myself for the moment when I would have to face the others. I entered, blushing intensely. I worried again when to my horror I realized we were not meeting in a conference room (I had planned for that), but rather in an office. I could feel them all looking at me, and wondered what they were thinking.
Chairs were crowded on three sides of the room, the other side holding an enormous desk and the door. Normally, at meetings in other circumstances, I select a seat that is one seat away from the individuals on either side of me, and drop belongings on the neighbouring chair to ensure minimal close contact.
I nodded a greeting and looked about with a fake little closed-mouth friendly smile pasted on my face (I am sure it looks like a smirk). I barely saw the other people in the room because of my panic to find an empty seat not too close to anyone. To my dismay, there were no chairs vacant. I was mortified, but I kept that stupid smile on so no one would know how I felt, as I stood frozen at the door. I blushed like an idiot. I blurted out something that was supposed to make light of the situation. I have no idea what I said, but I'm fairly sure that I looked like a deer in the headlights. Revise that thought – I'm kind of short. Aardvark in the headlights.
The others muttered about making room, shuffling their chairs. Someone found some more chairs in another room, and placed one near the door and two more across the room. I thanked them quietly and dropped my belongings on the one nearest the door, then removed my jacket and placed it on the chair back. I grabbed my stuff, dropping things while I shuffled them around, trying to put some of it under the chair. I tried not to squirm too much in my seat while trying to organize myself, then clasped my hands together on top of my clip board, attempting to keep from looking at anyone, while hoping not to look like I was avoiding their gaze. I am sure they were all doing the same.
We all knew why we were here, and none of us was comfortable with the idea.
London, roughly 200 years earlier, in the wee hours of the morning:
Fitzwilliam Darcy looked about the study and his gaze settled on the bottle of brandy resting atop the credenza. Once again, he waged the internal battle as to how proper it would be to take a drink prior to his appointment. It was not the hour that concerned him; it was well into the night. But the smell of brandy may not be proper to the others whom he would encounter for the first time at this meeting. He had always schooled himself to be so proper, and now, when faced with unfamiliar circumstances to say the least, he was feeling quite panicked.
He snapped out of his mental argument when Winston announced that his carriage was ready. He straightened his posture and set his jaw, as he rose to make his exit. Darcy swiftly donned his greatcoat and hat, and collected his gloves, while quitting the London townhouse into the blackness of the night. He frowned to himself upon realizing that his haste was due to his intent to be relatively unnoticed, a desire that was probably misguided even at this hour. It was not an easy feat for the Master of Darcy House and Pemberley to move about in a covert manner, as his movements were dutifully, but discretely noticed by dozens of people who were expected to anticipate his needs. He swiftly boarded the carriage and indicated direction of his destination.
He felt a sense of unease about the excursion, as he rode through the streets of Town with the carriage curtains closed. He had made this trip several times before, so he was experienced with the sensation, and attempted to calm himself with the thought that he had not come to harm previously. Had there been another person in the carriage, his feelings would have shown; his posture was slightly slumped, his brow was furrowed, he held a frown, and his eyes clearly showed worry. However, as the carriage slowed moments before they arrived at the building, Darcy's face became a mask of indifference, his posture became tall and proud, and although he was not able to shake off the somewhat stiff posture of his anxiety, he appeared to be a haughty and important man. He indicated to his coachman that he wished return to the townhouse in three hours time; however, he requested that the carriage return to Darcy House rather than wait, and he would call for it when he was ready to return.
Darcy was a tall, striking figure. He was very handsome, with a slender, well-proportioned physique that showed his fitness from riding and fencing. As he stood and momentarily paused, his deep brown eyes surveyed the street to appraise the situation. He had no emotion on his face, and his body language only showed the self-confidence and diffidence of a man of consequence and wealth. He did not enter the address at which he disembarked, instead he briskly and purposefully walked along the quiet street, being stealthily aware of his surroundings. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he had a niggling urge to look behind him every few feet, but he did not. He rounded the corner, narrowly missing a collision with a late night dustman, who apologised profusely to Darcy's retreating back, after being the recipient of a withering glare.
Farther down, Darcy quickly crossed the road and entered the deserted square, slowing his pace somewhat to match the more calm air of one comfortable with taking this outdoor excursion. He knew that on the other side, opposite the public buildings, was a place that hackney coaches frequented, so he walked in that direction, never betraying the trepidation he was feeling, except that his eyes were flicking about almost constantly. He reflected for a moment that he was scurrying about like some sort of nefarious character, but buried that fear as he lengthened his stride. He continued along the well-marked path as it wound through well-tended greenery and flower beds. He was relieved to see that there was a coach that appeared available for hire. Nearing the cab, Darcy paused, pretending to inspect his walking stick, and quickly looked about him to ensure that no one was paying attention to his movements. Feeling assured that he was not noticed, he leapt into the hackney-coach, and while handing a guinea to the driver, he curtly indicated his destination. He knew the route from previous trips, and, although it was not in the best part of town, he was sufficiently confident that he was not in much danger here. He relaxed slightly as he leaned against the squabs.
A very short while later, Darcy exited the coach and checked his watch by the coach-light. He was relieved that he would arrive near to the appointed time. He paid the driver generously, indicating that if he would return to collect him in three hours, he would pay the same for the return trip. The driver was exceedingly grateful and assured Darcy that he would remain in the area and return at the appointed time.
Darcy briskly approached the building and entered via the front door, never betraying his nervousness. There was no one to greet him or announce him. The building was obviously unoccupied, but he had expected it so. He found a candle near the door, lit it, and carefully walked to the small room in the rear. He closed the door behind him and selected the correct volume from the shelves, held it in both of his hands, and closed his eyes. He was tense and uncomfortable, not because of fear of any danger associated with the now-vacant book sellers', nor even fear of the very unconventional journey. His trepidation was regarding those whom he was about to meet.
Posted on: 2010-07-12
We return to the thoughts of our young woman of the present time, as she prepares herself for the meeting she is dreading:
I got my new job less than a year ago. I was really proud that I was promoted to supervisor at so young an age. I'm a pretty determined and intelligent person, and I'm well liked and respected by my peers and bosses, so I wasn't too surprised about being selected. (I can say I'm also pretty conceited sometimes.) I'm also ambitious, and always feel like I haven't accomplished enough, like my success continues to elude me. I hold myself to a very high standard, and can be demanding of others.
The big worry I had in taking the job was knowing all my co-workers, and their various quirks, and that made me nervous, because now it was my job to deal with them and make them work to their best. You see, I have a menagerie for staff. A total mix of personalities and foibles. Most are highly educated due to the research component of our department. However, we are also customer-service oriented, which is sometimes difficult for people in my department, who are mostly introverts, and absorbed with their own specialties rather than other people's needs and personalities.
I'll tell you about my staff: One woman is physically large with a deep voice; she is a competent worker, but is so abrupt and forthright that she can be intimidating to others. We have the neurotic guy, who over-analyzes situations and cries wolf all the time, but eventually does a great job after he has worked everyone else into a tizzy. There is a gossip, as usual in any workplace, and this one has an absentee problem. Then, there is my staff member with Asperger's Syndrome, who is probably the smartest one in the group, but ticks people off every once in a while because her disability makes her seem rude, but really she is unable to understand social niceties. One of the staff is a much older fellow, and he's really mad that he did'nt get my job, so constantly tries to undermine me, while to my face he acts like he is my best buddy.
There are also the sweet but lazy one; the hard-working, competent, quiet, selfless one who should have had my job, but didn't apply for it; and the smart motherly worker who has no ambition and frustrates me because she refuses to take initiative in spite of her intelligence. And last but not least, the guy who is personable, industrious, and fantastic at his job, but prefers outdoor adventures, so he constantly tries to talk me into a reduced work week schedule which would not be good for the rest of the group or our clients, but would accommodate his hiking, kayaking, windsurfing, snowboarding, wall-climbing, and that kind of sport.
I have a lot of responsibilities that are new to me, including pretty important meetings with people from across the organization. I have a budget and purchasing to deal with now, and I'm the one who is called on to solve pretty much any problem my staff can't handle. Which is not too often, but when it happens, it is usually a pretty big deal, with stressed staff and unhappy customers.
My boss seemed really nice at first, and helped me to grow into the job. But she's also pretty demanding, and is not afraid to vent at us. I'm the type of person who aims to please, but I constantly feel like I have disappointed her.
Plus, she felt it in her kind heart to dump all kinds of extra responsibilities on me, and questioning my decisions even though reflection tells me that there was no reason to. She laid the oddest accusations at my door, said my colleagues do not have faith in me (though in hindsight I think I know the ninja that put the notions into her head). Trying hard not to look at her with incredulity is a total test to my character, I must say. In my head, I want to say, "Are you on crack?" practically every meeting I have with her. So it should not be surprising to find that I feel stressed.
About two months after I took on my new job, I noticed that I was short of breath a lot, had pains and tightness in my chest, dizzy spells, and vision problems, like looking into a black hole. I was also tired a lot, and felt on the verge of tears a lot. My doctor put me through all kinds of blood tests, pulmonary function testing, allergy testing, and more. She found nothing wrong with me. She said I was likely feeling some distress from coping with the new job, and offered some medication, but I said that I would cope with it without drugs.
Then a few months ago I kind of flipped out at work. I started crying after a really tough staff meeting. I was dizzy and sweaty and hot, and my chest felt really tight. I felt like screaming. I thought I was going to die. Luckily it was in the privacy of my office. But I had felt this coming on so gradually, that I did not know how bad it was until I was in the middle of it.
So I went to a counselor at work, and found out a lot about my inner self. With my new-found insights into my Type-A Introvert personality, and my own insecurities and fears, I looked into all kinds of things on the Internet to understand myself better. I took some workplace courses on stress management, time management, dealing with difficult people, boundaries, negotiating; you know the kind of courses I'm talking about. But I was still feeling out of control.
Then I discovered Bishopsgate CBT Centre on the Internet. I'm not sure how I found it in the first place, because when I tried to find it again later (I had not bookmarked it), it didn't come up on Google. The URL is not at all helpful either because it is nothing near the name of the business, nor the type of service offered. I went to all the recent self-help sites that I had drilled though and finally found it again.
It's like it's buried somewhere in cyberspace, a secret waiting to be accidentally discovered, a myth you dreamed of, or an apparition that was too good to be true. I made sure I bookmarked it this time.
Darcy reflected on the reason he was here in this strange place. If he was ever to make amends for his ungentlemanlike behaviour, he had to overcome the struggles he seemed to have when in company.
He knew he was distant and had actually had the strong opinion that it was a very appropriate impression for him to present, for two reasons: He was in a high position in society, and should show his dignified importance to ensure the respect of others of lesser consequence; and he had found that he was less likely to embarrass himself if no one other than those with a friendship of some duration with him would dare to approach him for conversation, since strangers were sure to think him so above them to not suit their company.
But Miss Elizabeth Bennet had opened his eyes to some additional things that were hidden in his reticence: he had developed a pride and haughtiness in parallel with developing the countenance he wore in public. It was no longer a mask, it was an attitude, and he had insulted people, especially Miss Elizabeth, with his rude thoughts and words out of a selfish disdain for the feelings of others. It had entered every interaction with her, and he could now see that he never had hope of her good opinion with his manners as they were now. He thought about his whole acquaintance with Elizabeth as he prepared for the events that could perhaps help him manage his fear of strangers.
It seemed a bitter truth to Darcy that he was fortunate to have not actually asked for a courtship or G-d forbid, make a proposal of marriage. It had been his plan to propose as soon as he was able to find an opportunity to see Miss Bennet in private, away from the others. He had debated this with himself for days and nights as he realized the futility of denying his passionate love for Elizabeth Bennet.
He had to have her. He daydreamed about her, and at night... well, suffice it to say that he awoke daily with a painful aching. When he was away from her his imagination and yearning were overwhelming his common sense. Worse than that, every time he was in her company he was mesmerized by her, and when she moved, the sensuality he saw in her made him retreat to face a window or poke at the fire, while he tried to manage his reaction. For the first time in his life, Fitzwilliam Darcy was faced with feelings he could not control. All rational thought or ability to converse left him as he watched her, overwhelmed with fascination and adoration. It was mortifying to him to know that everyone knew his feelings, that they could be seen on his face.
Their walks at Rosings and flirtations at the pianoforte had encouraged him that she was receptive to his addresses. He was prepared to make an offer if an opportunity presented. So when Miss Elizabeth missed the tea at Rosings, claiming a headache, and was alone in the parsonage, he leapt at his chance. His aunt called after him as he quit the room, but he was determined. Focused on his singular mission, he quickly removed himself from the party and made his way to the parsonage. The servant was a little hesitant to admit him, but Miss Elizabeth agreed, and the door to the parlour was left open for propriety.
However, as soon as he entered and laid eyes upon her, he completely lost all of his senses yet again. His well-rehearsed words of love and tenderness had vanished, and his mind was blank. Darcy had paced and fidgeted, sweating and blushing, working to control his breathing enough to speak, feeling his heart beating wildly in his chest, struggling with words that would not come. After some moments like this, he paused to open his mouth to speak as he looked up at Elizabeth's face.
But he stopped in confusion when he saw her expression. He searched his mind for an explanation for the intense anger she held all over her beautiful face. As he paused to understand her perplexing countenance, she released a declaration in a very sharp, even, low voice, trying desperately to harness an anger about to explode. The words he recalled her saying still haunted Darcy:
"Mr. Darcy. How fortunate I am to have your presence tonight, as I had a very interesting conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam this afternoon. I thought I might dismiss your abysmal manners and avoid a confrontation, since I have become familiar with your selfish disdain for the feelings of others, and I doubt my interference will have any effect on your abominable pride. But my ire has been raised, and your attending here this evening uninvited inspires me to lay forth your appalling and cruel actions.
"It seems that you felt it your duty to separate my sister and Mr. Bingley for your own selfish reasons, and have proceeded to boast about your shameful interference within your so-called superior social circles. I know you suffer from an over-abundance of pride, but I fail to understand, sir, how you can congratulate yourself for encouraging Mr. Bingley to demonstrate the actions of an inconstant trifler of women's affections, and leave my sister to suffer the thoughtless comments from speculative gossips regarding her affections towards a suitor who has evidently no regard for her feelings, while she is suffering inconsolable heartbreak! What have you to say to that, sir?"
While normally an intelligent person who thoughtfully considered his words prior to constructing a response, at that moment, Darcy acted significantly out of type, and spoke without thinking. More correctly, he blurted the first thought that entered his head, as he was still struggling to sort out the events that had just occurred. So, rather than consider the intelligence she had revealed regarding her sister's affections, he defensively stated that he was proud of separating Jane and Bingley, indicating that he had observed that Jane was not partial to Bingley, and that her family's manners were improper enough for him to voice concerns to Bingley about a connection to the Bennets.
This only fanned the flames of Elizabeth's anger, and she spat out her disgust at his actions detailed in the story that Mr. Wickham had related of his ill-treatment at Darcy's hands. She also went on to describe how Mr. Darcy's snobbish hauteur and dismissive words at the Meryton Assembly, and his lack of civility to the people of Meryton, had contributed to her distaste for his company throughout her acquaintance with him. She indicated that he was the last man in the world that she would have wanted to converse with this evening or at any other time in the future, and asked him to take leave of her.
Darcy had been indignant at the accusations she had flung his way, and for a moment, he turned as if to quit the room. However, it struck him that he was leaving Rosings in the morning, and although he clearly had no chance of gaining her good opinion today, he realized that this may be his only opportunity to undo the damage to his reputation done by Wickham, and to protect her from any harm that could come from what appeared to be a preference for Mr. Wickham's company. He tried to calm his anger and hurt, and started to respond by saying in a somewhat bitter voice,
"Miss Bennet, Mr. Wickham tells a similar falsehood about our history everywhere he has resided. Although some of the story is true, he has twisted the truth and omitted critical information that would reveal his true character, which is not nearly so pleasant as it seems on first meeting him. In protecting my privacy, I have allowed people to be ignorant of the danger of trusting Mr. Wickham."
His voice caught as he quietly asked of Elizabeth, "Will you allow me to disclose some confidential information which is painful for me to relate, so that you understand better my relationship with Mr. Wickham?"
"I will allow you to state your defense, although I am undeniably sceptical about its altering my opinion of your nature one whit. With regards to personal information your disclosure may bring out, you have my word that I will only repeat the parts of your story for which you give me leave to tell. I hope that is sufficient." Elizabeth responded, with her distrust evident in her tone.
Darcy indicated that he believed her earnest in keeping the delicate portions of the story concealed, and then commenced to relate a tale about his long and almost familial relationship with Wickham, who was the godson of Darcy's father. Darcy revealed that Wickham was given a 1000 pound inheritance when old Mr. Darcy passed. But where Wickham had said Darcy denied him the living at Kympton that had been verbally promised by Darcy's father, Darcy revealed that Wickham had approached Darcy and turned down the living, asking instead for compensation which would fund his dream of the pursuit of the law as a profession. He returned not three years hence having all but exhausted the money, including 3000 pounds Darcy had given him in lieu of the living. At that time, Mr. Wickham had demanded the living as well. When Darcy refused, Wickham was angry and spiteful.
Darcy had not realized the extent of Wickham's resentfulness until the previous summer, when Darcy accidentally arrived in Ramsgate to surprise his young sister on holiday there, only to find that Wickham was near to succeeding in an eloping with her, in hope of accessing her substantial dowry of 30,000 pounds, and to act revenge on Darcy. Darcy was fortunate that his sister trusted and loved him enough to disclose her intended marriage before running off. Wickham was dastardly enough to immediately abandon the fifteen-year-old girl he had claimed to love upon discovering that he would not get any money from her dowry whether or not he married her. Miss Darcy was mortified and devastated. This event happened shortly before Darcy came to Netherfield, and he was distressed with the effect that the incident had on the confidence and happiness of his young sister.
Darcy had concluded by telling Elizabeth that the parts of the story relating to Georgiana were the reason for his hesitation in telling the people of Meryton the truth about Mr. Wickham. He did indicate that Mr. Wickham was not to be trusted in any case, since he ran up unpaid debts wherever he visited, and that he had a history of abandoning young girls after having compromised them. He saw a mixture of shock and incredulity on her face, so Darcy also told Elizabeth that Colonel Fitzwilliam could verify any part of the disclosure that was related to her that evening.
"I will not take up any more of your time. I wish for you and your family the best of health and happiness, and may God bless you." With that he quit the room.
As he walked briskly back to Rosings, Darcy felt all the symptoms of angry humiliation. He had been so sure she was pleased with his company during his attempts at courtship, yet she told of her strong dislike of for him from the very start of their acquaintance! How embarrassing that his addresses were so poorly demonstrated to be read as indifference or dislike! He wondered, 'How could the Master of Pemberley, responsible for the dispositions of hundreds of persons, have misread someone's affections so horribly?'
He went immediately to his chambers, pleading urgent business matters. As he played the confrontation in his mind, he marveled at how naive he had been. His world seemed upside down, as all he believed about his relationship with Elizabeth was called into question.
He ran his hand over his face as realized that the woman he loved so desperately would never be open to his friendship, let alone his hand. Anger turned to despair, and though emotionally exhausted, Darcy could not sleep as he agonized over what had just happened, and felt the full force of his lost love. Where his dreams had been full of promises of future felicity and passion, he now had a script of angry accusations and declarations of hatred from the lovely lips of his beloved playing over and over in his mind. As dawn approached, his despair and exhaustion defeated him as he broke down in sobs of anguish.
He recalled that later that day, he and Colonel Fitzwilliam returned to London as they had planned. He had thought to admonish his cousin for revealing the separation of Bingley and Miss Bennet, but realized that a confrontation with his cousin would be of little help with the real problem with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Eventually, at some time during the carriage ride, he asked his cousin, "Richard, if you would be agreeable, I would like some advice on a rather personal matter."
His cousin looked at him with interest and crossed his arms as he replied with a nod, "Darcy, you know you are more than welcome to discuss your concerns with me at any time."
"I thank you," Darcy said, and paused, furrowing his brow. He continued somewhat hesitantly, "It seems that I have become ill-mannered at times when I am in social situations. I have been told that I am seen as proud and unfeeling. I have often made a specific effort to hide the fact that I am quite shy. Thus, I thought I had appeared somewhat reserved and unapproachable, but unfortunately, I had not, until recently, realized that perhaps my distant behaviour has caused me to embrace an attitude of hauteur, which has resulted in my causing injury to others, whether or not it was intended. The appearance that I have been unconscionably rude I can deal with, as my awareness will force my consideration of others' feelings and spur me towards attempts at being more civil.
"I am struggling with the idea of how to become more amiable in the company of relative strangers when I am very uncomfortable. As you know, I am not easy with making conversation with those I do not know well. I fear I lose my ability to speak sensibly. What say you to this?"
Richard had earnestly attended to Darcy's concerns, and took a few minutes to reflect whilst attempting to compose his answer in a way that would be helpful to his cousin's seemingly honest intention to improve his interactions with others, all the while, allowing kindness to Darcy's feelings.
"Darcy, to some extent, you have a right to act in a way that shows that you are superior to society in general. A great deal sits on your shoulders as Master of Pemberley, and it would not do for you to be overly familiar, because there will be times that you are required to insist upon some degree of deference to your station. It is thus for all those in leadership positions, myself included, in my military role.
"I hope that I will not offend you with what I am about to say next, cousin. You have seemed to have magnified the need for respect until it has become a sense of superiority which has permeated itself into all situations other than with very close friends and family. Therefore, I agree that you must think on your behaviour and work to improve your thoughts and reactions to those below you in circumstance.
"As to your shyness... I think it is much more than shyness. When you were younger, you were actually afraid to speak up, even though you often had much more of value to say than many others who have no qualms about nattering on with their opinions. Since you lost your father, you have become forced to be in a position of authority that you were not meant to hold until some years later. I have come to observe that over the years, you seem to have developed certain attitudes to assist your fear of speaking up, similar to a lame person developing a limp, to overcome your pain. I think you need to learn how to give up these defenses and be more confident in word, such as you are in demeanor."
"I think there is a fair sense of reason in your assessment, Richard; however, I am unable to see a way to resolve this on my own. My responses to discomfort in public have been to retreat and hide behind an image that is ill-suited to gaining the approbation of society. But if I abandoned this altogether, I am without doubt that I would embarrass myself dreadfully. I have had a recent experience where I was required to provide a response to criticisms while feeling extremely discomfited, and to my great dismay, my thoughts became incoherent and I was unable to control what I said, to the point of becoming even more offensive than I have ever been as a silent and judging man who intentionally remains distant and reticent."
"I may have a remedy for you, but it is extremely unconventional, and thus must remain secret if I reveal its nature." Colonel Fitzwilliam said after a thoughtful pause.
"I am very much interested in any thing that could help me, Richard. You can trust my discretion." Darcy had been curious as to the advice his cousin had to impart.
"If you were to agree to undertake this... er...procedure, you would be required to have somewhat more than a little of an open mind to experiences that go far in extension outside of our experience. For that reason, you must promise to not allow many unrelated aspects of what you see and learn during your... er...treatment in this... er...location, to affect your everyday life, other than what you gain by learning to conquer the concerns which you have just related to me. And as I said before, disclosure of the situation of the remedy would have dire consequences."
"Have you taken this remedy yourself, Richard?"
"No, but I know of a fellow officer who participated in a similar situation, when he returned from battle with unsettling melancholic sickness."
"It was helpful to him?"
"It most certainly seemed to be to his advantage, from what I could see in his improved sensibility and the intelligence that he has privately related to me. Only he knows his own mind on the full effects of the remedy."
"Very well, Richard, I am interested to hear more, and will follow any directions needed to ensure that this is kept discretely to my own knowledge."
"There is a booksellers in Lawney Row that has a special section in the back, with volumes related to study of the inner workings of the mind, that no one has ever read outside of a very discrete few. These books can never be removed from that room in the back of the shop, as they contain information that would be harmful to society, regarding information that is yet not publicly known, which may be harmful to everyday life as we know it. As you can well imagine, this information must be trusted only to those capable of respecting the rules. I believe that you can be trusted, Darcy.
"A person who desires to change a less desirable aspect of his behaviour can peruse one of the volumes I have mentioned, while discretely hidden in the back room. Therein is not a recipe or procedure or other such remedy, rather it is an introduction to a very special man, Dr. Geoffrey Spencer. He will be most helpful in assisting the change in the behaviour. Any person trusted to indulge in the use of the books and thus meet Dr. Spencer is able to safely remain the same person mentally, physically, and otherwise, except for an improvement in the area which is concerning. All of said activity follows while you are seemingly within the back room of the shop, but the endeavour would require attending there past midnight for an hour's duration or more each se'nnight, for perhaps some months of time. The man who is revealed by the books, Dr. Spencer, will tell all and prepare you for the experience."
"This is very interesting, Richard. But what do you mean by saying the activity is 'seemingly' within the back room? Is Dr. Spencer not there? Is the help hidden within the book?"
Although curious, Darcy had not any idea of the surprising revelation his cousin was about to provide, and looking back, he was somewhat incredulous at his own calm response to it. He thought that he might have discounted Richard's story immediately as a joke or other sort contrivance, now that he knew the reality of the unbelievable details. However, at the time, Darcy had listened with increasing amazement at the unusual situation Richard described.
"The reading of the volumes held in this room will assist the interested reader to have an experience as if he had traveled through time, to actively participate in events taking place in the future, some two hundred years from now. For all intents and purposes, it will feel as if you are actually in a situation within the future, and that Dr. Spencer, and all others whom you will meet while in the back of the booksellers, are persons who live in the future, and do not actually exist today."
Darcy was stunned at what he was hearing. It seemed very strange indeed. He decided to give it some thought before he asked more questions, and when he related this to his cousin, Fitzwilliam agreed that was a wise course of action.
However, a few days later, Darcy, having been apprised of all of the additional particulars, had taken his initial trip to the booksellers and had met Dr. Spencer, who would reveal the secrets that would forever change the course of events in Darcy's life.
Posted on: 2010-07-20
Somewhere in a modern western city, the first Tuesday in May, 6:40 pm:
The smells. They were odd, so very different than in London, in fact, different than anything in his experience. The most prevalent was a decidedly foul odour; he could not place what it was, something of a gas, but not as off a pigsty or cesspit or mine. It was everywhere, and overwhelmed him every time. Darcy could smell it on his skin and clothing when he went home at the end of the evening. When it was most noxious, his eyes burned. He asked Geoff about it once, but none other than himself seemed to detect it. Darcy worried that it may signal something harmful was present. He did not understand why he was able to sense it but not the others.
There were other odours. The room with the pumps and water closets (they call it the men's room) sometimes smelled like a medicine he had taken as a child. Vile stuff. Darcy was pleased he knew of the water closets; he had one installed in the master's chambers in Town. Not many people had the luxury.
An equally confounding mystery lay in those instances when he could smell something which was less foul, in fact, it was quite pleasant, as it reminded him of fresh air outdoors. This odour was not unlike the smell of the air at the end of a hot summer's day, when the billows of the clouds towered and turned an angry gray at their base as they approached on the wind, forewarning that a violent rain storm was coming to quench the verdant fields of his estate. The quandary was the instances the rain smell had occurred; he had detected the smell on very clear days, and yet no event of rainstorm was seen, nor reported later.
He fancifully wondered if perhaps Dr. Spencer's people had managed to conquer rain storms to make small ones occur indoors; he had seen so many strange things that he felt anything could be possible in this place. He had never seen a thunderstorm inside the building, but the smell was strong, and only as he passed a fixed location. He was not certain about asking; the foul gaseous odour had not been detected by others than himself, and he did not care to expose himself to incredulity on this subject of smells a second time.
With the tome from the book seller's still in both of his hands, Darcy opened his eyes and found himself, as expected, in the storage room of Dr. Spencer's offices. He put the book on the shelf in front of him. His heart was racing and his eyes were wide, even though he had been here four times before.
He found the clothing as usual and quickly changed into the high-necked pullover, boxers, lightweight woolen trousers and blazer, leather belt, short stockings, and slip-on leather shoes. They had been chosen for his comfort and their natural fibres similar to those he was used to. He was not able to suppress his the feelings of impropriety wearing certain other types of clothing that he had been offered, particularly where his neck was exposed, so the clothing mimicked the neckcloth and jacket of his daily attire. Although the activity of changing clothes was slightly calming, he still could feel his heart racing and his chest tightening.
A knock on the door was followed by a quiet voice, "Darcy, have you finished with changing your clothing?"
"I have, sir, enter." Darcy replied in a similarly quiet but authoritative voice. Dr. Geoffrey Spencer, a psychologist with a dumpy, baby-boomer, suburban look about him, entered the storeroom and closed the door behind him and the two men shook hands. Dr. Spencer smiled warmly at Darcy.
"Are you ready to meet the others?"
"As well as I will ever be in this situation, I suppose, Dr. Spencer." Darcy said, his controlled voice masking the panic he was feeling inside. He twisted his signet ring and looked at his hands while doing it. They were damp.
"Call me Geoff, please," the chubby older man said. "Remember, Darcy, that it is customary here to address most people by their Christian names, except in very formal situations. As we agreed, the group will only know you as Darcy, a businessman from England. Now, the group is small, and there are several other single young men who have similar problems with the opposite sex."
"I must beg of your forgiveness, but these rituals are continuously odd from my perspective, and I want to be clear as to the propriety of some things. I remember that dating is the word they might use for calling on the fairer sex, but includes friendship as well as courtship, and need not have chaperons and may include familiarity and...ah...liberties, er...w-with the fairer sex which may not result in marriage."
Geoff nodded, and Darcy continued, "A hug or an embrace is a common and quite proper greeting, even in public, usually showing affection between friends, but at times individuals will embrace even with slight acquaintances as a sort of posturing to obtain social acceptance." If Miss Bingley found it was proper to 'hug,' she would embrace me far too frequently! Darcy hid his grimace.
"Knowing what is deemed within this view of propriety is difficult, and I thank you for advising me of the existence of such, even if it is not expected within our limited society of the meetings. Although I hope I do not have to view any untoward familiarity, I sincerely wish to assure you that I will endeavor to control my shock should something as such occur. I do not wish you or others to feel concern or confusion as a result of my lack of comfort with all of the odd social customs you maintain in this society and era."
"Yes, we are a lot more permissible than you are used to, that's for sure. Hugging is so ubiquitous as to have often lost its real value of expression. It's unlikely that you'll see it in this office, though. The people in group are likely too reserved for that type of behaviour.
"I hope I didn't forget anything I should've warned you about. Staying on this floor and only meeting group members should limit your experience to a very few people in a familiar environment. It probably won't influence your life in a negative way, but while you are here you may have to allow for some differences and try to be unaffected by them."
"I thank you for this privilege. I am well-accustomed to controlling myself so as to assume a calm and dignified countenance under even very difficult or uncomfortable circumstances, and schooling my features to show little of emotion. I believe a gentleman should be able to show restraint and dignity at all times." Darcy took a deep breath and looked away from Dr. Spencer, as he continued.
"Even as well as you have tried to educate me on the changes in society in the colonies in the twenty-first century, I am still quite concerned about my deportment should I be startled by something extremely untoward." Darcy continued, blushing and still nervously fiddling with his ring. "This is much to take in, and quite out of my experience, as you are surely aware. It has been so kind of you to help me in this way, but I still am discomfited by the impropriety of some of Miss Austen's, er... Cassie's garments, and many colloquialisms are confusing to me. Although I must say I have become accustomed to my own apparel, and quite admire the electrical lights and automated carriages...er, the cars, and many other marvelous inventions I see about me. However, as you know, I will not take to this first meeting with perfect equanimity."
"Relax, I'll be there to help you through it. These people are not here to judge you. They, like you, are painfully shy and uncomfortable, especially with strangers. You'll all be trying to learn how to be, as you put it, more amiable and civil in company."
"I am sure it is so." Darcy said with conviction that he did not feel.
"Shall we?" Geoff gestured his hand towards the door with an open palm, inviting Darcy to exit the room ahead of him. Darcy's expression became the impassive, neutral facade he always used when in a situation of discomfort as they both moved down the internal corridor towards the meeting room.
I finally managed to stop wrestling with all the stuff I had with me. I kept a clip board and pen for an excuse to look like I knew what I was doing. I got up the nerve to sneak some looks at the others; several were around my age.
There were two guys who looked to be in their mid- to late-twenties: a guy with long red hair and light skin who slouched in his chair and looked all sullen and pouty, and a shy-looking man who was probably of Indian ancestry. Both looked to be a bit taller than average, and the Indian Guy was probably close to six feet. They were very good-looking, muscular, and well-dressed in casual clothing. They were the ones who brought the extra chairs, but now they were mostly looking at the floor.
The one older man in the room was slender and neat, of average height, and he had neatly-cut, short, white hair, a well-trimmed white beard, and wire-framed glasses. He looked to be in his sixties, not just his skin and hair, but also his well-pressed, conservative clothes. He sat quietly with his arms crossed, and was the only one who smiled at me when I came in the room.
A teenage girl near me looked like the loser I was when I was in high school. She was dressed like she totally lacked self confidence and wanted to hide, right down to plain long brown hair covering part of her face (think Violet Incredible here), huge shirt that was supposed to disguise her larger-sized boobs, and eyes cast downward. Her body language said 'I feel drab.' I wondered if she was in the chess club.
A slightly chubby, forty-something woman was dressed in an expensive business suit with a white blouse, sensible pumps, stylish glasses, and bobbed blond hair. She would probably be attractive except for her 'I despise being here' expression. She sat with her shoulders slumped and legs crossed, and she was fidgeting with her hands and restlessly shaking her raised foot. She tended to glance up frequently to look everyone up and down, while trying not to make eye contact.
Great, a room full of sullen young floor inspectors, Business Bitch, and Mr. Retirement. I cringed when I realized what they must have been thinking of me, as I arranged my note pad and pen, and wished we could get on with it. It was already five past. I know this not because of a clock or watch or phone, but because the earliest I ever come into a meeting is on time. I am usually a little late, in order to avoid small talk. No small talk to worry about here, though!
A few reeeaaaally long minutes later, two more younger men entered, followed by Geoff and Cassie. I was really amazed at how quietly the four people entered the room. No talking down the halls, no hi-how-are-you, just stealth-sneaking into the last two chairs. The last two guys were an interesting pair. I immediately nicknamed them TDH and Mini-me.
TDH, or Tall, Dark, and Handsome, had the face of a Chanel model, you know, those classic ads with gorgeous guys in dream sequences. (Short video clip ) Yummmmy! He looked like he was in good shape; he probably worked out. He was about my age, and well over six feet tall, with perfect facial features. Chiseled. I have never used that word to describe anyone before. But it was true, he looked like he could have been an Adonis carved from marble, he was so perfect. He moved like he was a dancer or an athlete or somebody important. I would almost call it graceful, but he is a guy.
But TDH looked totally uncomfortable as his intense eyes scanned the room for a seat, so I tried to give him a tiny, reassuring, fake smile. He scowled at me, and looked away. Another sullen one! Okay, sorry, I tried!
When he was seated, he paid no attention to the floor, unlike the others. He instead sat there all stiff and straight, like he had a rod up his ass, and stared blankly at something on the wall between Business Bitch and Miss Teen Geek. Business Bitch narrowed her eyes at TDH, then quickly glanced everywhere else in the room but in his direction like she was worried that someone else noticed her looking at TDH. Miss Teen Geek wrapped herself tighter in her over-sized shirt and moved her gaze from the floor to her lap. I rearranged my pad and paper for the seventeenth time and glanced up at them. If I were not so stressed, I might have stared at TDH.
Mini-me was a much smaller and younger version of TDH. He was short like me, maybe a bit over five feet tall. He was also quite good looking with a lean muscular build, nicely tanned (don't get me wrong, I'm not pro-skin cancer for vanity, but I must admit that I his golden skin was quite flattering on him), and curly brown hair like TDH. But he made me uncomfortable pretty quickly after he sat down, because he was jumpy and fidgety, and had major verbal diarrhea. He was the only one one in the room who didn't mind talking, but he seemed pretty forced, like he was trying too hard. It was almost as if the words popped out of his mouth before he could control them. He talked even faster than me, if you can believe it!
Cassie didn't stay for the meeting. She made sure we all had some tea or water, got a chair for Geoff, and then left. Geoff greeted us, and went through an overview of the group: A Social Anxiety Program including psychological theory, self-analysis, coping techniques, cognitive-behavioural therapy, and exposures. I had read about all this stuff on the Internet, and really did not quite 'get' it, but we had 10 weeks, and since I have two degrees, I wasn't worried about the course work. Just the people. Pouty Guy constantly flipped his pen around his hand while Geoff talked, so I had something to look at other than the people. The pen not the pouty guy.
We introduced ourselves. Turns out Miss Teen Geek was Emily, who was only sixteen. Business Bitch was actually pretty soft-spoken and motherly when she talks, and she has a delightful French accent. Her name was Madeleine. Mini-me was Elliott, who had graduated from high school a year ago (I would have put him at sixteen, but he was nineteen) but had no job, so hung around slothfully on his parents' dime; surfing and BMX biking and loads of other bonehead things that I forgot while I was contemplating how much useless information he was blurting out.
The Pouty Guy was Brandon and Indian Guy was Ashik. Mr. Retirement was Martin, a widowed accountant with several grandchildren. TDH is Darcy, an English businessman. Wow, an adorable English accent to top off all his other perfect attributes! I think he said he had a master's degree, like me. It's like he can't be real.
Five good-looking guys! (I included the grandfatherly guy, as he had very nice features for an older guy, but not Geoff, who lost out in the gene pool.) What are the odds!
Then a thought occurred to me. 'So are any of these people actual losers, or are they all fairly normal like me, just a tinch mentally ill?'
We were there because we had social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, which means that we were all worse than shy. That's how we got into this group. We tended to avoid social situations, or have weird coping strategies, such as floor examination, dissociating while yapping about nothing, self-medicating (including drugs and alcohol), avoidance of eye contact, yadda, yadda, yadda.
We each had morbid fear of certain social situations, resulting in uncontrollable physical reactions and even debilitating panic attacks. As much as I poke fun at all my fellow group members, this first meeting was extremely difficult for all of us, as it was exactly the situation we all had as a deathly fear: a social interaction with strangers.
Our narrator continues the story a week later, in the present day:
It turns out Darcy didn't have a master's degree. I heard him incorrectly. He was Master of Pemberley or something like that. It's not a school, it's an estate. I've never heard of it. It's in England, Derbyshire, he said. Note to self: Must Google a map to see where Derbyshire is in England.
Darcy was kind of a self-important snob, but then, I often misjudge English people, thinking that they are talking down to me, because their accent somehow seems presumptuous and haughty. I noticed Darcy fiddled with a ring a lot. It was probably a nervous habit. I was doing it too, although I think it was because I liked looking at my ring, not that I was looking at it instead of looking at the floor. No, I probably was looking at it instead of the floor, just that I would never admit that to anyone because I wanted to be normal and fit in.
It turned out Ashik was a dentist. He was pretty reticent. Ha!! Most of the group was pretty reticent!! I really really liked to look at Ashik and Darcy, if you know what I mean, and I listened extra attentively when either one of them spoke, which was kind of rare. It was purely for my own enjoyment, since therapy was hardly the place to meet a guy, as if I were looking anyhow.
Madeleine was married and had four children and worked in some kind of government job, but she was much nicer than I expected from her corporate look. Except for Geoff, she was the only married one.
After we learned some overview aspects of social anxiety, Geoff taught us how to "belly-breathe," which was supposed to help us to relax when we are panicky. The logic was there, more oxygen to the brain, focus on breathing to calm ourselves. It actually works pretty well for me, if I can remember to slow my breathing down as well. It was easy to do there, since we were being coached.
Then he gave us a CD with the breathing exercises, plus deep muscle relaxation. I had tried the muscle relaxation before and didn't 'get' it. You are supposed lay down to listen to this guy with a really peaceful voice (like that painting guy on PBS with happy little trees) and playing in the background is one of those new-age, chirping-birds, roots-electronica, pricy-spa tracks. The guy tells you to tighten and then relax your muscles, one group at a time. They start with the toes, then the feet, then calves, and move up the body. (No kegels.) You are supposed to learn the whole thing, and practise it a lot, so you can relax by yourself at any time, without the CD. I never got through the whole CD when I tried it before. I always fell asleep before it ended.
But on the bright side, it probably works well for insomnia! No help when my boss stresses me, though. At the time, I thought I'd give it another go and see if this CD was any better, although I usually resent being told to do something I don't think is of any use. I decided that if they asked, I'd fake it and say, 'Yeah, yeah, I liked it, it was all good.' I do that a lot. Try to tell people what they want to hear so they like me.
I found out that a couple of the people were seeing Geoff regularly as their psychotherapist. He said he'd talk to Elliott about quitting smoking in their next session together, and told Darcy he'd give him a printout of the stuff we got on the CD. I guess they had bigger problems than social anxiety because I wasn't in therapy. Well, except for our group, which was more like taking a self-help course. At least that's what I kept telling myself.
Darcy talked really formally and even weird sometimes, and he was soooo perfect. Not necessarily in a good way either.
Everything. Is. In. Order.
Maybe he was OCD. He also held his pen really weird. Not spinning it around his hand like Brandon; it was as if he thought it was delicate or something. And he seemed fascinated by the smallest things! Like he got into this stupid discussion with Geoff about the carpet being made of synthetic and not wool, and they both seemed really impressed that it explained something Darcy smelled. It turned out that he had this really sensitive sense of smell, not about perfumes, but about normal stuff. He insisted that there was a bad smell in the office that gave him a headache, and Geoff said it was probably because he was sensitive to plastics. (At work there was a woman that was sensitive to everything and had to go home all the time, but I think she was actually allergic to her boss.) But anyhow, another time Brandon thought Darcy was talking about smelling the ozone from the photocopier, not the new plastic smell. I didn't get it, but I also didn't want to be mean by asking questions about his habits or paranoias. We had enough to deal with with our social anxiety without our fellow mental health patients judging our other quirks.
Darcy let us girls go through the door ahead of him, though, and once, he actually stood up and kind of bowed when we came in the room. Madeleine and I laughed and thanked him, but I think he kind of scared Emily. Real YouTube moment! I kind of liked being treated like a 'lady;' my inner princess came out with a vengeance. I guess English people are more formal and old-fashioned than I thought. No, no, I've known quite a lot of English people, and a most of them are really normal and fun to be around, quite the partyers. Quite!
But Darcy never seemed to loosen up. Always with this straight-man face, and he stood really tall and straight. Plus, he was really tall, so it kind of bugged me that he would stand at his full height instead of relaxing, because I'm little and everyone seems to feel it's okay to lord over short people.
But I have a big personality once you get to know me!
The third week of the program, present day:
Geoff Spencer was facilitating a discussion to help his current Social Anxiety Group learn to recognize symptoms of their anxiety attacks, so they could start recording their thoughts and feelings around the situations that caused them distress.
"When you feel your social anxiety, what physical reactions have you found?"
The participants were very reluctant to talk about anything, but eventually Elliott, the most extroverted of the group, started by sharing that he was often twitchy and sweaty when in uncomfortable social situations. Lisa was also becoming more comfortable with the group, so she spoke up next. Geoff had expected her to become a leader in the group fairly early on, since she seemed to have a great deal of self-assuredness when in the few one-on-one meetings during her assessment for admission into the group. She said that she had heart palpitations and chest tightness. Others added dizziness, tunnel vision, muscle tightness, stuttering, physical awkwardness, sweating, numb sensations, and difficulty concentrating or making decisions, among others.
"I tot I was in ze meno-pause when I was only tirty-eight, because I have ze dizzy spell and ze hot flash!" Madeleine whispered in her French accent to Lisa, and they shared a giggle.
Geoff wrote hot flashes on the list on the flip chart. He then talked about how the group had obviously somehow learned to live with social anxiety to some extent, for example, they were all here at group therapy. They had somewhat normal lives, yet all had reasons that they could not avoid interaction with other people.
"What techniques have you used to hide your anxiety when you have been forced to be in uncomfortable social situations?" Since the group had opened up a bit from the discussion about symptoms, they were more easy with answering this question.
"I don't talk to anyone unless I really have to. I look away, or don't make eye contact, or go to the cheese table." Lisa said, earning a small laugh.
"I avoid people I don't know." Brandon said.
Madeleine had an interesting response, she tried to have a tissue in her pocket at all times to wipe the sweat off her hands before having to shake hands with someone. Ashik said that he tried to avoid situations with even the mildest confrontation. Elliott said 'evasive mumbling,' and Lisa snorted, then blushed in embarrassment.
Darcy decided to pipe up at this point, and said, "I take on an air of distinction and import, by exhibiting a noble countenance and gentlemanly bearing, as befits my rank in society."
"I don't know what 'noble countenance' means," Elliott said, "but when I first saw you, I thought you looked down on everyone."
Darcy felt some discomfort, but as usual, he did not change his neutral expression when he responded, "When I refer to exhibiting a noble countenance, I am indicating that I try to adopt a posture and facial expression that displays that I am without question a man of some consideration in the world."
"You mean to say you're proud of that?" said Elliott, as more of a statement than a question.
"Certainly! Pride has justification where there is superiority of mind and station." Darcy replied.
"I guess it works for your social anxiety. It offends people. They want to stay away from you." Elliott responded.
Lisa was dismayed at the negative tone the conversation was having, and tried to be more helpful to Darcy, by looking at him and saying, in an almost apologetic tone,"I know you don't mean to seem unfriendly, but you do clench your teeth a lot. You probably don't realize that it makes you look a bit severe."
"Yeah, dude, you were scary the first meeting." Brandon added.
Darcy felt confused, not sure whether or not he should be offended. Sensitive as the others were, they sensed his discomfort, seeing that the conversation had focused so much on Darcy.
"I tink I do ze same ting as Darcy." Madeleine offered with a self-deprecating smile, "I try not to show my emotion, to avoid ze uncomforta-bleh situation, like small talk, but I have ze frown when I tink I have no expression."
"I avoid small talk too. I'm often a bit late or almost late for meetings. I never come more than a minute or two before the meeting starts in case someone might want to make small talk with me. I wind up running for the bus a lot, probably for the same reason, so I don't have to talk to anyone at the bus stop." Lisa added.
The group easily moved on to other techniques used by the participants to deal with their social anxiety, but Darcy was not attending to the conversation at this point. He was considering how he always thought that his mask of indifference was a positive talent, but now that he reviewed his experience, he realized that it could be misconstrued as stern disapproval. Certainly some of the criticisms that Elizabeth had leveled against him during the ill-fated Hunsford debacle could be explained by a misinterpretation of his schooled mien.
Posted on: 2010-07-29
The first week in June, present day:
We were all getting along pretty well, now that we had been together a while. I was really starting to like each person in group for their own personality. Martin and Madeleine were very chatty when you got to know them.
It turns out that talking too much can be a coping strategy for social anxiety, just like avoidance. People who are anxious when they have no choice but to talk to others will sometimes say more than necessary, perhaps because they have heightened awareness from the stress, and feel irrational pressure to justify their point. I know that sometimes I say things that I should not, like telling people the down sides of something when I am supposedly trying to convince them to take my side of things. It's kind of being an overly sensitive devil's advocate. So Elliott's talking too much is not so much over-assertiveness. It's a cover for his discomfort.
Darcy and Emily were still the quietest. I realized that I had been paying way too much attention to Darcy. It seemed like it was starting to bug him, because he looked at me in a weird way a couple of times when he caught me watching him do something unusual. I decided to get over it and let him be weird. I can't fix everyone.
We were supposed to keep diaries of our thoughts when we have our anxiety attacks, to help us to understand the situations that are the worst for each one of us. I'm really surprised at what makes people anxious: Apparently some people can't use a public washroom, but no one in our group owned up to that one.
Oh, and I don't think Darcy is OCD after all. I was using hand sanitizer during the meeting. He was sitting beside me that day, and he made a face about the smell, and quietly asked what it was, so I told him, and showed him the bottle. He read the bottle, but seemed confused and asked me what 'sanitizer' meant.
So I asked, "Don't they don't have hand sanitizer in England?", and he shook his head in the negative. I told him it was alcohol gel to wash your hands with when you can't get to the washroom, and that my hands felt dirty from everything I touched that everybody else's grubby hands had been on. He still seemed confused, and said that he had not seen dirt on my hands. So then I realized he probably didn't have a phobia about germs since he didn't care about whatever bugs had been on my hands. I said I had been out shopping and didn't want to catch anything from shopping carts and door handles and stuff.
He whispered, "Catch what? Shopping carts and door handles?"
I chuckled softly to myself and whispered back, "Germs."
He still seemed confused, and I thought that maybe there was a different word for germs in England, so instead I said, "I don't want to get the flu."
He said, "The flu?"
"Influenza." I said. He seemed to understand and nodded.
Brandon caught my eye, and I realized that the whispered conversation I was having with Darcy had taken our attention from the group, so we returned our attention to the discussion at hand. Geoff had been writing social anxiety triggers on the white board. In addition to 'using a public washroom', it said 'asking for directions,' 'speaking in public.' Emily is afraid of being watched while she is at her locker at school. Martin can't eat in a restaurant alone. Madeleine can't chit-chat or have coffee with her co-workers. Ashik blushes and stammers when talking to any woman outside of close family and friends, and his job involves working one-on-one with patients!
Most of us agreed that a social function, like a dance or party, was a difficult situation. None of the single guys can get up the guts to ask a girl out, or to dance. So they don't ask, because they are afraid of being mortified because they are blushing, stammering, sweating, and totally losing their thoughts. No wonder my girl friends ask guys out or to dance! Guys are too scared to ask.
Thinking of dancing, I don't think have never danced with a guy when sober. No, I pretty much always had a bit of a buzz to get up my guts to dance in public. Well, not in junior high, then I just hid in the back as much as possible. But clubbing definitely was always preceded by a drink, for courage, as the saying goes. I'm lucky I never got into trouble. A shot for courage easily becomes another and another and then it turns into a forgotten evening.
Second week in June, present day:
We started doing exposures. That's where we role-play our own worst situations for social anxiety. I was really nervous that no one would volunteer to be first and that I would even though I didn't want to, just to be nice to everyone. I do stuff like that. But luckily, two people saved me, at least for this week.
The first exposure had Madeleine pretending to come into the cafeteria at her work, and sit at a table with a bunch of us, and then we would pretend to act exactly like she was afraid would happen in her worst fears. The rest of us had to be the actors, and do stuff to make her feel like we didn't want her to sit with us, like stop talking as soon as she sat down, then ignore her, say mean things, or get up and leave. Madeleine was supposed to sit down even if she didn't want to, and try to fit in the conversation, and use the skills we have learned, such as deep breathing, and challenging her automatic thoughts with positive self-talk. When she got anxious, she had to tell Geoff her level of distress, on a scale of one to ten, ten being a panic attack and one being perfectly relaxed and calm, almost sleepy. Geoff explained that the intention was to have Madeleine's discomfort stay above six for a while, and when it dropped below five and stayed there, then it would be pretty likely she would never fear that situation again.
It was really hard to do the acting at first. Geoff explained that socially anxious people usually try to get on other people's good side, and for that reason we want to help others to a fault, whether or not our help is wanted or appreciated. I agreed. I wanted to be super-nice to Madeleine when I was supposed to be pretending to be a mean girl. But we all tried our best, and in the end, Madeleine said she felt better than she ever had in that situation.
Eliott had asked to do his exposure with a situation with the opposite sex. Of course I rolled my eyes in my mind, he's always talking about sex. Geoff suggested that we give all the single guys a chance to try to overcome their fear of asking a girl to dance, since it would probably help them become okay with starting any topic of conversation with a girl they liked. Since there were four of single guys and only three women in our group, only two of them did the exposure at a time, starting with Elliott and Ashik. Darcy and Brandon tried it at another session.
We had to become their worst fear come true when asking a girl to dance, to totally mortify them. I have to admit it was kind of fun being a mean girl this time. I got to pretend to be one of those snobby, gorgeous, tall, leggy, blonde types that all the guys fall all over themselves about. I would giggle and roll my eyes and whisper to Emily "As if I would ever dance with him!" when asked to dance. I think Emily got a kick out of it, but she was still pretty shy when she was acting.
I still think it's sad that such good-looking guys would think they'd be turned down. Apparently we all use cognitive distortions, or thinking errors, that make us come to conclusions about outcomes that are not particularly rational. So I guess good-looking guys thinking that no girl would dance with them, or that they will fall apart asking, is pretty distorted!
Well, in Elliott's case, since I knew what he was probably interested in, I would probably turn him down if he asked me to dance. Sorry, I hate to say anything against his recovery, but there it is.
It's my turn next week. It will be about my anxiety related to people in authority. Crap.
Third week in June, present day:
I got through my exposure okay, no crying or running away. Geoff had two people be in roles of authority for the role-play: Martin (Geoff said because he is older), and Darcy, who I assume he picked because he speaks so formally. I had to ask for something and be constantly shut down. It was set up like a meeting so Martin and Darcy were behind a table when I came in, to underline their higher position in the workplace, and to create a barrier as if the two of them were against me. I really found it difficult, even though they are my friends, because they were so convincingly cold and haughty! But I got through it, and made a strong case for my proposal, without messing up or backing down.
After we were done, everyone in the group was really supportive, and gave me all kinds of compliments; they said how well-spoken I am in a business sense, and how I appeared way more calm and collected than I felt. Martin told me that I was so persuasive that he was ready to say yes, but he didn't want to undermine Darcy and make him feel less self-important, which made everyone laugh. Even Darcy smiled, and showed his dimples, and lifted one eyebrow! He looked so cute! I swear, this was so much better than Earl Hickey!
I think Darcy is cute when he blushes, too. He always seemed to be blushing at the tactless things Elliott says. Elliott was obviously pumped full of raging teenage hormones, as he seemed to talk about sexual situations a lot. Mostly that he wasn't getting any. Not that we wanted to know either way.
'Girls want to hang out and have sex with my buddies, but I can't get them to have sex with me, because I am so twitchy and say stupid things when I am nervous.' or
'I was at the pool with my buddy, and a girl started talking to us, and it was embarrassing. I had to go back in the change room.' or
'I need to be able to ask girls out. You can't have sex if you can't ask a girl out. Well, I guess with some girls you can, but I don't know how you get to meet them.'
Please! Keep it to yourself!
Elliott also talked about doing pot to help his nervousness. So then Martin said he liked his scotch, that it helped him to relax. Of course, Geoff felt it his duty to make a cheesy speech trying to suggest that we could become alcoholics or addicts if we 'self-medicate' our anxiety with drugs or alcohol, but he beat around the bush so much trying not to hurt anyone's feelings or make accusations that he really blew away his point without actually coming out and saying it. Does that make sense?
I can't criticize too much, because I always used to down a glass of wine before going out with my friends. But because Will doesn't drink and never does drugs, I rarely drink anymore. He's a good influence on me.
I had become more comfortable with the group, and almost as talkative as Elliott. But I flatter myself that I was much more interesting! As usual, as soon as I opened up to new friends, I started being happy and yappy. It was like this extrovert appeared and I was immediately super-lively, funny, and fun! Somehow remarkably clever quips seemed to spout freely and naturally from my mouth, and when I saw that they were admired and appreciated, it fed my ego and I became louder and sometimes completely took over the conversation with my incomparable wit and comedic timing. I had to remind myself to stop from becoming obnoxious already, sometimes too late. Of course, I was usually the instigator when our group got waaaay off the topic of discussion and Geoff had to reign us back in.
I was not the only one who had relaxed and become easy in group. Even Emily and Darcy had joined in the banter. Sometimes Darcy and I shared a secret joke that was intellectually over the heads of the others. I liked that we had that in common. I tried to get him to laugh. He really looked good when he laughed.
Speaking of hot (Darcy is sooooo hot!), the weather was really nice the end of June, and it was weird, but Darcy still wore the turtleneck and blazer in group.
I'll warm you up, big guy!
Down, girl! Control yourself!
Seriously, with no AC in my building nor in Geoff's office, I dressed more casually than usual. I have to say that usually I'm pretty conservative, actually a bit of a prude. So I wore a nice sundress, and a pair of dressy flipflops. Nothing too sleazy, I'm too self-conscious for that.
Well, Darcy nearly had a hernia when I walked in the room. He could not inspect the floor, ceiling, and wall enough. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me, so I almost looked at my butt in case I had a "kick me" sign or something. Social anxiety kicking in, thinking people are judging you. I know I'm short and built more like a sixties siren than a skinny supermodel, but I was under the impression that I look at least okay when I wear something that accentuates my curves. Obviously Darcy doesn't think so.
I won't let it get to me, though. Who knows about English guys. Hot, but very hard to figure out.
Even though Geoff had attempted to prepare him for references to a very permissible attitude towards intimate relations, Darcy had been embarrassed by Elliott's sexual innuendos. Some days, it was all he could do to keep from strangling the would-be rake. He also noticed that the ladies were blushing during some of Elliott's admissions. Darcy felt that if the ladies blushed, then there surely must be impropriety! When he asked Geoff about it, he had agreed, and said that the ladies felt it was more proper to ignore Elliott.
The weather had warmed as the summer approached, and when Darcy walked into the room at the beginning of one session, he stopped abruptly, turning bright red and looking away from the group. Young Miss Emily was wearing short trousers that showed bare knees! It had been uncomfortable enough that all of the ladies preferred to wear trousers, sometimes without stockings, and some of which displayed the ankles, but this young girl was flaunting her legs in public! Darcy frowned and huffed out a breath of air in disapproval as he sat down stiffly. His thoughts whirled around the warnings Geoff had given regarding clothing, and he forced himself to be charitable to the young girl, but did not look toward Emily more than having her in the corner of his eyes.
Darcy noted that Brandon wore similar short trousers. The trousers seemed much too large in both of the young people's cases, however, Brandon and Emily always wore clothing that was very large. Madeleine wore a skirt that covered her knees, although her legs were bare and her slippers showed her bare toes.
Just as Darcy collected himself, Miss Lisa walked into the room wearing an outfit that he thought belonged on a courtesan! Darcy had not thought her to be wanton, however, today he was shocked to see her lovely legs bare to her knees (and a bit of thigh when she sat down!), her shoulders and upper back not covered, and slippers made of thin straps, showing her bare feet. This was disconcerting, but nobody else seemed concerned in the least! He had admired Lisa, had actually found himself quite attracted to her. She was quite pretty and had a very womanly figure, and this dress showed her assets to their best. Darcy averted his eyes, but had a hard time avoiding glances at Lisa. Finally, he crossed his legs to hide his discomfort, and tried to think of Caroline Bingley.
Then Elliott entered wearing a shirt which was completely without sleeves, along with his very short pants.
A/N: The word "sanitary" only came into use in 1813, and "sanitize" was first recorded in 1836, so this would be a word Darcy was not familiar with, outside of the Latin "sanitus," meaning health. The word "germ" did not refer to harmful microorganisms until 1871. Prior to that it was used as we still use "wheat germ" today. "Flu," short for influenza, came into use in 1839. Although influenza was known in Darcy's time, the mechanisms for contracting disease were still a mystery. I'm sure that there are many more examples of modern words in this story, but I thought the hand sanitizer conversation would be an interesting example of something Geoff forgot to explain to Darcy.
Posted on: 2010-08-09
Last week in June, present day:
The group was making a list of core beliefs that related to social anxiety. The core beliefs had been identified as themes, from the private thought diaries, which seemed to be hot buttons, whether they were related to our judgment, perceptions of others, or views of the future. Geoff had listed responses such as 'I am not as good as I should be,' 'People are critical,' 'People think I have nothing good to say,' and 'They are going to be disappointed in me,' on the flip chart paper, when Martin asked Geoff a question.
"These examples of core beliefs are really just low self-esteem. I don't fit that. I think most of the time, I'm pretty self-confident. In fact, I know I'm better than most people I deal with. But I still feel awkward and judged in some situations. Does that count?" Geoff replied,
"Sometimes core beliefs are related to an individual's preconceptions of others as a group in society, because we unconsciously create classifications to make it easier for us to sort through life. We use wealth, education, politics, religion, and many other way to classify people into groups. Even if we're confident in ourselves, and comfortable among those we know, we can feel anxiety around those we don't know, because we're not sure about their motives or views.
"For example, many people fear a homeless person on the street, but social workers and police know that a homeless person is usually pretty harmless. But in the minds of privileged people, the homeless are an unknown, but clearly in a lower class. People in a lower class can be perceived as having greed and envy that makes them spiteful of others, to the point of intention to cause harm. Also, the appearance may cause us to believe that they care little about the welfare of themselves and therefore possibly could be less caring about the welfare of others.
"But is this really the case, or is it an exaggeration? We have to ask ourselves these questions, and challenge the validity of our core beliefs as it relates to our anxiety. Is the homeless person a mugger, a maniac, or just poor?
"In Martin's case, it could be that he has anxiety because he feels that he has to prove to others that he is as good as he thinks he is, even though he is sure of his abilities himself. This could lead to distress when interacting with people he is expected to lead or set an example for, whether they be subordinates or bosses, or even his own children. He may only focus on the negative aspects of the core belief, making it difficult to let the anxiety go."
"So my getting all stupid in front of the Director is really a core belief that he's better than me and looks down on me, and I should challenge that core belief?" Lisa asked, and Geoff nodded. Then Darcy said,
"It seems to me that if a man is in a superior position, he has a responsibility to demonstrate his authority and superiority to those beneath them."
"That would be your core belief, Darcy. Now how do you think it affects your anxiety?" Geoff replied. Darcy seemed to be in deep thought before he took a deep breath and replied,
"I am sensible to my influence on society, the reliance upon my decisions and experience, and it is my duty to be worthy of the esteem of others. However, I am not always comfortable with the prospect of this level of responsibility, nor the overwhelming regard I am offered due to the differences in our circumstances. I have become resentful that others are judging me only by my wealth and position in society, thus I become anxious about being seen in that regard when among strangers."
"Right. You're so focused on maintaining your image that you become distressed, and hide that distress by closing yourself off, and even appearing arrogant. It's not an uncommon feeling for people in leadership roles. So how do you challenge the core belief?"
"Perhaps not every person is judging my superiority in society. In cases where they are, I can tell myself that it is of little concern to me."
"Does that sound right for your situation, Martin?" Geoff said.
"You hit the nail on the head, Darcy." Martin replied, "But aren't these core beliefs really values of society as a whole? Even though we don't have class systems like we did two hundred years ago, there's work and government classifications, plus most people identify with people that are like them." Geoff replied,
"Yes, in some cases, people feel safety in what society dictates as normal. Challenging the core belief could mean deciding to disregard that rule of society, to become a non-conformist if we feel the value is in conflict with our happiness. But the danger of the core belief is when we allow it to rule our assessment of our situation, and trap us into anxiety."
London, about 200 years ago, the following morning:
Darcy was reading in his study when Charles Bingley was announced, earlier than was usual for visitors, but Bingley was as near to family as anyone, so was welcome at Darcy House at any time.
"Darcy, how do you do." Bingley said with a slightly false smile, as Darcy rose to greet him.
"Quite well, Bingley. I have not seen you for quite some time. I hope you are well." Darcy motioned for to the chair near him after the gentlemen had completed their bows.
"Yes, well enough," Bingley replied as he took the offered seat, "I have been spending more of my time at my club and going to social evenings and the like. I am sure you have been invited to all the events that I have, but I have not seen you attend, even though you did make an effort in the past. I realize how much you dislike the social scene, Darcy, so I don't bother you about it. Besides, Caroline always wants to attend every event she can, and I know you have little tolerance to her attention towards you."
"I thank you for your consideration. So, you are enjoying yourself at these events? Have you fallen in love with a new beauty?"
"To be honest, no. There are many pretty women to flirt with among the ladies of the ton, but it seems that none of them have the sweetness of temperament that Ja...that...that I...prefer." Bingley sighed deeply then continued, "I find myself even more melancholic after a ball. It is a surprise that Caroline is able to convince me to go with her, as I find no satisfaction from the whole scheme." Darcy noted an uncharacteristic scowl on Bingley's normally smiling countenance.
Darcy thought again about Elizabeth's conviction that Bingley and Miss Jane Bennet truly loved one another, and he compared his own situation with Miss Bennet's. He recalled that he had learned how people misread behaviour of the people with social anxiety, thinking them unsociable or unfeeling. Perhaps he had not been in the best position to read Miss Bennet's feelings; he had not been in her presence often.
Darcy also realized that if Bingley truly loved Miss Bennet, he should be heartbroken to be denied that love. Perhaps it was not so generous a decision to persuade Bingley that she was not suitable for him. Darcy knew that heartbreak. Thoughts of Elizabeth were pleasing and sour for Darcy. He recalled her laugh, the twinkle in her eye, the challenge she presented when arguing a contrary point, and how he loved her dearly. Then, he thought how it physically hurt to know that she could never be his wife. He had to put this out of his mind.
Bingley interrupted Darcy's ruminations, "You are quiet Darcy. Is something bothering you? Problems with the estate?"
"Thank you for your concern; the estate is well. The spring planting was completed on time and the weather has been pleasant. I think you may have noticed that I am somewhat fatigued this morning; I had a late night. I am well otherwise."
"I am please to hear it. Once I buy an estate, I will have the same concerns, though certainly not on nearly so grand a scale as you have at Pemberley."
"Have you thought about Netherfield? Are you planning to return?" Darcy winced inwardly; he was trying to change the subject, but as soon as the words left his mouth, he realized that his inquiry held many suggestions of the experiences with the Bennet sisters and the loss he, and likely Bingley also felt.
"No, Hertfordshire seemed appealing at one time, but given the experience I have had there, I find that it has things I can not...cope with, that....overwhelm me. I now I find Netherfield...unsuitable. I realize...it has things I... I am not able to achieve what I dearly want there. It is likely that I will not return." His voice had become softer and softer.
Darcy nodded. He heard the discomfort and sadness in Bingley's voice as he struggled with the memory of how Netherfield was tied to his romance with Miss Jane Bennet. They remained quiet for a few moments. Then Bingley looked up at Darcy and said more cheerfully, "Caroline will be happy, as she never did much enjoy the society in Hertfordshire."
"Well, we will be to Pemberley within the fortnight; that should please your sister." Darcy said with a tone that implied he would not be so pleased with her company.
"Sometimes, I think we become too entrenched in our ideas of remaining in a particular social circle, or making efforts to elevate our position in society with our connections. There is a lot of care and worry required to keep on the good side of the ton, to make small gains in society, but at what cost? We could lose the opportunity to make very dear acquaintances by shunning those we feel are below us. Perhaps our belief that others are below us is doing us a disservice."
"I had never thought to hear such a thing from you! Are your politics to change next?" asked Bingley. Darcy shook his head in the negative, and Bingley queried, "So your opinions will revert to their previous conservative fastidiousness on the morrow?"
"It is difficult for me to say this, but I must own that I have believed myself better than my actions have proven. I have reconsidered some of my opinions, and find that I hold to some traditions for the wrong reasons, and express my views strongly at times."
"Do not be so harsh with yourself. Your advice has always been helpful to me."
"I must disagree, since my advice to you is a good example. I have tried to impart my experience to your benefit, and for a time you were in need of my knowledge and influence. But, there comes a time when you must consider my opinion, but make your own observations and decisions. I may be wrong in my opinions and my counsel to you, and your amiable nature allows you to acquiesce too easily."
"I disagreed with you, I would let you know." Bingley said honestly.
"Yes, you have shared your opinion on occasion, but at the conclusion your actions seldom differ from those of my suggestion. I have perhaps been too forceful in trying to sway you to my view, and should have trusted your ability to evaluate and judge situations on your own. I should have allowed you to lead your own life, and even perhaps make your own mistakes." Darcy paused, fearing his friend's response to the next words he said, "I may have been wrong regarding my views of Miss Jane Bennet."
Bingley started, and said in a tight voice, "How so?"
"Well, I had observed Miss Bennet's interactions with you and concluded that she did not show any marked preference. I had truly believed that my interpretation of her attentions was thorough and correct, and used that information to influence you that your belief in her preference was mistaken, and that she may be a fortune hunter. I sought only to protect you as my friend.
"But, lately, I have been told that my own reticence is difficult for some to interpret. This revelation made me reflect on my own impressions of others, and I saw that Miss Bennet could be hiding her feelings as I am wont to do. However, I had not the experience of close conversation with Miss Bennet as you had done. Perhaps you were correct, and she does admire you." Bingley looked thoughtful, but did not respond, so Darcy continued,
"Miss Bennet came to call at your house last winter while she was visiting relatives in Town."
Bingley's head snapped up as he became very alert to Darcy's disclosure. "What?" he asked sharply.
"I was not there, but Caroline told me of it." Darcy said firmly, but with his eyes averted from his friend's gaze. "Your sisters returned the call several weeks later, but neither they nor I apprised you of any of these events. I had noticed that you had been in ill spirits since leaving Hertfordshire, and my concern for your sensibility let me to decide that a renewal of your acquaintance with her would pain you and exacerbate your disappointment. However, now I have strong reasons to regret that decision, as well as my advice to you." He paused, then looked his friend in the eye and stated with conviction, "Bingley, you once believed that she had tender feelings towards you. If you truly believe that you have observed evidence of her admiration, and you hold the same strong feelings, then you should not let others stand in the way of your happiness. The gift of love is one that should not be thrown away on the distant observations of another, even if it is a friend."
Bingley dropped his gaze and stood stiffly quiet for a moment, as he mulled over Darcy's revelations. Then he looked directly at his friend with eyes narrowed in suspicion, and bluntly asked, "Is this why you were asking me if I were to return to Netherfield?"
"Pardon me?" Bingley said with confusion evident in his expression, and Darcy blushed and coughed at his unintentional use of a twenty-first century colloquialism including a strong oath.
"I beg your forgiveness for my ungracious outburst, Bingley, my enthusiasm for the scheme has the better of my wit." He paused to consider the wording of his response to minimize his influence on Bingley's decision, then continued, "Yes, if it meets with your approval, another sojourn at Netherfield could be a prudent move to assist you in confirming, er, the sensibilities of the neighbours."
"Do you believe that Miss Bennet will accept my addresses? Could she still harbour tender feelings?" Bingley's tone contained some uncertainty.
"I do not know, Bingley, just as I did not know last November. You are in a better position than am I to know Miss Bennet's way of showing her regard."
"Perhaps I might have Netherfield readied for me to arrive within the week." Bingley was thoughtful.
"If you think it to be wise."
"I am sorry, Darcy, that I must tell you that I will not join you at Pemberley as planned. My sisters will be sorely disappointed." He smiled to indicate his return to good humour, and Darcy's tension began to relax.
"They will bear it as best they can, and I am sure Georgiana and I will be capable of entertaining ourselves without your presence."
"Darcy, you must know that I should be quite put out with you for keeping this information from me. Miss Bennet must have been quite disappointed when I did not return to Netherfield as I had planned, and also when I did not call on her with my sisters. For Miss Bennet's sake, I really should be quite cross. But Miss Bennet is so good that she would forgive you, even make excuses for you, so I am finding myself grateful that you chose to acquaint me with of your change of opinion."
"I am glad of it. I was concerned that I might lose your friendship over my ill judgment."
"No, your reasons were honourable, and you are a true friend to admit your error. My sisters, however, will not be receiving as congenial a response, as I do not believe their intentions were so kind as yours. I will expect an explanation, and it is likely that they will be asked to remove themselves from my house, and will not be welcome until they have apologised to Miss Bennet. Once I have confronted them, I will remove to Hertfordshire and pay a long overdue visit to Longbourn.
"I shall take my leave of you now, as I have many things to accomplish before the day is over. Say, my friend, are you free to join me at Angelo's in the morning?" Bingley rose and took up his hat.
"I am free, and would be delighted to join you. I am only glad that you have forgiven me and that I am a better swordsman than you, else I would have some hesitation. However, I think that a bit of fencing is just what I need to refresh my mind and clear this melancholy. What say you to ten?"
"Splendid! We can dine at my club later if you would like it."
"Good. I look forward to it."
"I will see myself out. Good day, Darcy."
"Good day, Bingley."
Posted on: 2010-08-09
First week in July, present day, coffee break:
We were chatting at coffee break, and Brandon says that he was talking with a group of friends and wound up talking to a girl in his crowd, and she said, 'I thought you were stuck up, but now that I know you better, you seem pretty nice.'
Then Martin said, 'Do you find that people think you are a snob because they have misread your social anxiety?' and several of us agreed; we had had that experience.
So Madeleine says that the day after an office function, one of her co-workers actually told her 'I was really surprised that you could have fun! Everyone thought you were so serious, so no one really liked you much. It was kind of weird to see you cut loose.'
I have to say, that girl needs a lesson in tact.
Then the real big one came out... Darcy was totally in luuuuvvv with this girl he knew, and they spent most of their time together with other people around, and of course, Darcy was shy and didn't talk much to her, but when they did have a little conversation, Darcy thought she was flirting with him. So then he started taking her on romantic walks in the park. He was even thinking about proposing! But he had a really hard time getting up the nerve to ask her, and pretty soon every time he tried to even talk to her, he couldn't say anything because he was so worried about messing up.
Then all of a sudden, she tells him she doesn't really like him and thought he was a rude snob! She blamed him for lies another guy told her about Darcy. She accused him of having "selfish disdain for the feelings of others."
I do not shit you, that's what happened.
Well, we all just... Shut. Up.
Everyone looked at him in shock. To be ready to lay your vulnerability out like that and have it shot down! And his social anxiety had made her think he was proud and arrogant, when it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize he's really a very nice guy!
I'm not sure I get this chick, saying she didn't like him when they obviously had been together for a while. (Though I have to admit that I also thought that it could be that Darcy is a stalker and she was trying to get away from him all along.) Anyways, she must have given him some idea that there was a relationship, and led him on, and then made this stupid story up to dump him. Good riddance. No one is allowed to be that cruel to my friends! Poor Darcy. He deserves someone who appreciates him.
It was quiet for a minute, then Darcy continued talking and admitted that he got mad because he thought he shouldn't be treated this way, and said some things he shouldn't have. He realized that it was the anxiety that made him react that way, and he regretted it. Then he seemed really pensive and was quiet for quite a while. We all continued to be stunned into silence.
Anyhoo, it was getting to be a pretty awkward silence in the room and finally Ashik said, 'I feel for you, dude.' and we all said, 'Yeah, yeah, too bad,' and stuff like that and squirmed a bit. Thankfully Brandon took the pressure off by telling us that he was going to sign up on Lavalife, and of course, that is a conversation in itself...
Darcy was relieved that he had sympathetic ears for his failed courtship with Elizabeth Bennet. Brandon and Madeleine had been accused of improper conceit and pride in society, and both were quite shy and quiet, but amiable among people of their acquaintance. From early in the acquaintance, Darcy had been easy conversing with the men in the therapy group, and Madeleine seemed motherly to him.
He had noticed Miss Lisa looking at him in a queer way sometimes, and he did not know quite what to she was about, but lately he was finding himself and Lisa more at ease with one another. Lisa was quite spirited when in familiar society, and she got on well with everybody. Darcy thought that perhaps Lisa sometimes paid him more attention than she did the others. She seemed to be playfully engaging in repartee with him, and he enjoyed her company. Lisa was witty and vivacious, but also kind and caring; she tried hard to make the others comfortable, especially when she smiled at Darcy as if he were the most important person in the world at that moment.
She reminded him a bit of Elizabeth. Although neither woman had what was termed classic beauty, both women were quite pretty. Lisa had dark hair and sparkling eyes like Elizabeth, but Lisa's hair was quite short and her skin was of a deeper, warmer colour. Elizabeth was taller and her figure was lighter than Lisa's, but both were pleasing to Darcy. Lisa was also intelligent and accomplished, university educated, with a master's degree. But then, she had more opportunities than Elizabeth. Lisa's manners were much more informal and less discrete than that of most ladies of his acquaintance, and she was not nearly as graceful as Elizabeth.
Darcy concluded that Lisa was indeed a pleasing and interesting woman. He found himself wondering about her opinions when she was not there, and looking forward to opportunities to converse with her. He found he was grateful for her friendship, and had to admit he was quite attracted to her musical laugh, her sparkling eyes, her playful demeanor, her witty retorts, as well as her titillating figure.
He wondered if his admiration of Miss Lisa held more promise than prospects of winning the favour of Elizabeth Bennet. It certainly was an unusual situation to think of a woman from the future as a romantic object! Lisa was more demonstrative of her regard for him than Elizabeth had been. Of course, he had been very mistaken about Elizabeth's regard, but being more careful in the aftermath of that mistake, Darcy thought he was observing a definite mutual attraction with Lisa.
Could there be a future for him here? Every thought of romantic prospects in his real life was related to painful recollection of his pride and of course, his loss of Elizabeth. He thought it likely that he could never have her, since she was decidedly against him.
So after coffee, I tell everyone in our Social Anxiety Group that I was on the bus last week, and a guy in business clothes came on a few stops after me, and sat a couple of rows behind me. He was nice-looking, a little older, friendly face, not at all threatening-looking. But all of a sudden I was convinced he was staring at me and thinking bad things about me, like something was wrong with me. It was really starting to get to me; I was obsessing that he was staring at me and wondering why he was doing it and wishing I had the guts to turn around and look. I did sneak a look or two back and he was reading the paper, but I could not shake the idea that he disapproved of me.
Then I realized, 'This is an opportunity, where I can practise my newly learned anxiety-calming skills!' I thought about therapy, and did the belly breathing, and tried to use the questions we were taught to challenge the truth of the automatic thoughts.
I asked myself about the first part of the automatic thought, 'Is it true? Is he staring at me?'
And I thought, 'He wasn't when I looked. When I'm not looking, it's possible he stared at me, but unlikely.'
Then I thought, 'So what if he is staring at me? Are my fears worth worrying about? Am I going to die?' and my mind replied, 'No.'
Then I asked myself about the conclusion of the automatic thought, 'Is it true? Is he judging me negatively?' and replied in my head, 'Unlikely. He's probably not looking at me at all.'
Then, 'Is there another explanation for his behaviour?'
'Yeah, even if he is looking at me, it could be because I look really good today. I have a good figure and took care with my appearance.'
And it worked! I quit worrying about him, and my thoughts all of a sudden were all about how I'd lost all that weight last year, and I was in good shape from working out, and I had picked a nice outfit and everything, and I looked goooood! It was great to feel great about myself!
I enjoyed my bus ride that day, and got to tell the group how this cognitive-behavioural stuff and belly-breathing really works! Plus I got a few compliments out of it: they said that of course the guy was looking at me in admiration and not to find fault.
Darcy even said, 'Miss Lisa, in our acquaintance, I have observed that you take great care in your appearance. I have not had the opportunity to see you looking less than lovely.'
Miss Lisa! Sigh! Swoon! A girl has to get her ego boost wherever she can!
Posted on: 2010-08-16
Mid-July, present day:
As usual, Darcy arrived much earlier than the others. Cassie came by a few minutes later to announce that she had made a fresh pot of coffee, and the few people that were already at the meeting went to help themselves. Darcy politely gestured the others ahead of him. He was getting his own coffee when Lisa arrived and greeted him with familiarity. She gratefully accepted his offer to pour her a cup. Darcy decided to speak to her about something he had discovered at the end of the last session.
"Lisa, I was speaking with Madeleine, and she disclosed that you are betrothed."
"It's no secret. We've been engaged since last Christmas. We're getting married soon, the first Saturday in August."
"I wish you happy." She looked at him with some confusion, but then replied,
"You have had a lengthy engagement."
"You think so? I don't know, I've seen longer, when people really have to have a specific reception hall or something like that. But Will was still in grad school, so we waited until he finished."
They were both silent for a moment, then Lisa said quietly in a serious tone, "You know, Darcy, when I first met Will I didn't like him much. I'm always shy and a bit standoffish with new people, and he saw that as a line in the sand, like he thought that I thought I was too good for him. When we were in the same crowd, I hardly ever talked to Will because I was so nervous around him, but I did listen to him, and was fascinated by him. Then one time, we did talk, and we argued. I enjoyed matching wits with him, taking a position and debating it in a fun kind of way. It showed me his intellect, which I like in a guy. I started to really have an attraction to him, and I thought he liked me too. I saw that although we had different personalities, we both were honest and fair and hardworking.
"But then I found out from mutual friends that they all thought that we hated each other. I started paying attention to how I acted and realized that I had avoided talking to him from the start, and it got worse when I started to like him. So, I decided I had to show my feelings better. When we were out as a group, well, I started spending more time near to him. It was hard at first, but I tried talking to him more often, and making an effort to be nice, and then he started to pay a lot attention to me. He admitted that he had liked me at first, but then avoided me because he thought I hated him because I was quiet except for our arguments.
"We started seeing each other as a couple, but we kind of hid it from our friends because they still thought we didn't like each other. We were both so independent and stubborn, so of course we had some pretty spectacular arguments when we first started dating. But sometimes all that passion is a good thing. You know, they say that love and hate are very closely related. Will and I love each other very much and I couldn't think of marrying another man." Lisa paused and looked downward. A minute later, she looked up at Darcy, and said in a quiet voice,
"You know, about that girl you like, I know it's complicated, but if you show her what we've seen of your personality here in group, and make sure she sees that you're caring and honest and intelligent, and that you're really a nice guy, you know, when you want to be, when you're with people that you trust, maybe she'll give you a second look. It wouldn't hurt to try, you know. It'd be a good chance to practise your cognitive-behavioural skills, you know, like I did on the bus."
"I do not know that I will have another opportunity to see her again." Darcy said softly with his eyes downcast while holding his coffee cup in his two hands.
"Well, if you do." Lisa said with a shrug, and Darcy nodded in response.
With unspoken agreement, they returned to the meeting room. As Lisa attended to the lively discussion going on about online dating services, Darcy's thoughts were on her advice. If Elizabeth had seen him in a better situation, would her impression have been different?
He thought about the situations she had seen him in: at the Assembly when he was tired and upset about Wickham and Georgiana; at Netherfield with Miss Bingley hanging on his every word; at social functions where he knew almost nobody; and with his Aunt Catherine pouncing on every topic to show her superiority. Before coming to these sessions, Darcy always stood aside with a studied impartial expression, in order to hide his fear of making himself look foolish if anyone tried to make conversation with him. He sometimes glared to make people think twice about approaching him, and he was naturally reticent among strangers (like all the people in the Social Anxiety Group admitted).
When he was so overwhelmed at falling in love with Miss Elizabeth, he had become anxious and tongue-tied, and all he could do was retreat to save himself from embarrassment. In her presence, he was unable to think of something charming to say to encourage a conversation with her, and agonized over his inability to be close to her, while watching her enjoy the company of others.
He had to admit that he did not have an excuse for all the times he appeared to have a selfish disdain for others. When he was displeased with the quality of the company and their folly, he made no effort to hide his distaste, and could be quite rude.
His father would not be pleased to hear this. He was taught to be respectful in order to earn respect, and to be forgiving of those who were less fortunate. Darcy thought about this, and realized that he was generally not seen to be distant or haughty at Pemberley, where he knew everyone. He had to remember to try harder to understand and accept people's foibles when he was in an unfamiliar situation such as in Hertfordshire. If Elizabeth had seen him conversing with Mrs. Long or Sir William the way he conversed with a Pemberley tenant or the smithy in Lambton, perhaps she would not have formed such a negative impression of him.
He remembered Luke 6:31: As ye would that men should do to you, do thee also to them likewise,* and decided to remind himself to follow it more consistently than he had done thus far. He knew that change in his habits would not come so easily as he would hope, but if he continued to practise all the good skills he now knew, he was certain that he would become a better man.
* Wording for Luke 6:31 is taken from the King James Version of the Bible. We know it as "The Golden Rule," and frequently paraphrase it as "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
That's it. Last session over. We are good to go.
These twelve weeks have changed my life, and I have seen similar changes in all my new friends in the group. We all got certificates, and I sneaked a peek where I could, because I have always been curious about people's last names. Martin Smith. Elliott Wentworth. Brandon Dashwood. Darcy was across the room so it would have been really obvious if I tried to look at his.
I'm trying to decide if I will keep my surname, change it, or use a hyphen when Will and I get married. Perhaps I will change it to use my full first name, Elisabeth, rather than Lisa. Somehow it seems more dignified. Elisabeth Bonet-Smith. I kind of like it.
I hope that Darcy gets to see that girl again and gets a second chance. I'm pretty sure he's still in love with her. I hope she gets a chance to appreciate him; he is a really good guy when you get to know him. Thinking about my own upcoming marriage always makes me a bit of a matchmaker. Darcy's too good-looking and sweet to stay single for long anyhow!
We all spent time thanking Geoff, and expressing our appreciation and admiration to each other while saying our goodbyes. I had thought about asking some of the people in group for their email addresses so we could stay in touch, but I didn't. I'm not sure why. Maybe this was something we had to do together, but we need to move on and use our skills. I'm glad I met my group members, even Elliott. They are good people and I will remember each of them with fondness.
Hertfordshire, 200 years ago, September:
As he rode to Longbourn, Darcy recalled all that had taken place since he had left Kent in April. Thanks to Elizabeth's frank rebuff of his proposal, he was able to open his eyes to his own shortcomings. With this information, he had worked hard to improve himself, both for his own satisfaction, and to improve his worth in the eyes of others. He had dared to take an unconventional journey into the future to meet an interesting group of people, and to learn how he was not alone in his fears. Through these friends, he had learned how to manage his reactions to potentially disconcerting social situations. He also had seen many marvelous things that would only be realized by his descendants. It would be a pleasant memory, even though the adventure would forever remain his secret alone.
There were many strange things that would remain his secret alone. He recalled the odd slate-like device which held amazing likenesses and descriptions of women who were perceived as good matches for Brandon. If only courting a bride were so easy. However, he had Miss Lisa to thank regarding his own present happiness.
He smiled when he thought of Lisa. Although they had a friendly attraction to each other, they were not meant as a match with one another, and she encouraged him to pay court to Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy had said his farewells to her and all of his friends in the group, and as they were leaving the final meeting, he noticed that the tall, dark-skinned man who was collecting Lisa (Darcy presumed he was Will, her fiancé) bore an unusually striking resemblance to Darcy's own father in face and stature. It made him wonder about his own descendants, what adventures they would have in the future, what changes they would observe over their lifetimes, and what similarities they would have to their Darcy ancestors. He reflected that although there were many strong differences, on the whole the future seemed to have a great deal of promise, and the congenial people he had met seemed content with their lot.
Since returning permanently to his regular life, he had practised his newly-gleaned skills, and had also reminded himself to practise the Golden Rule. He also told himself that some of his previously-held convictions were somewhat prejudiced, and that his views of society could be challenged if they compromised his happiness. Even though he would always remain somewhat shy and reticent, he was becoming more comfortable in public, and was making an effort to be amiable and forthcoming, rather than haughty and reticent.
Bingley had called on Miss Jane Bennet the day after Darcy had suggested it, and by the end of July, they had become engaged. Darcy had not known of the engagement until he had accidentally met Elizabeth at Pemberley while she was on holiday, and she had advised him of the good news, and suggested that he may even have had a part in it. Darcy recalled his thoughts as he bumbled through the first conversation with her since he had left Kent:
Breathe, Darcy! It is normal to feel anxious, it will pass, and you will be better for it.
Distress number? Eight! What did she say?
Relax, you don't want to sound like a pompous ass!
He had repeated questions that he had asked of her, and blushed intensely, but Elizabeth did not flee nor appear to think ill of him. In fact, she was blushing as well, but responded in an amiable manner, with a rather becoming smile. He recovered his senses, and given his state of disarray from the trip, he excused himself, feeling relief. But as soon as he was away to his rooms, he realized that if he did not return to the situation, his anxiety would only be worse the next time he had to speak when unprepared. He quickly washed and changed from his dusty riding clothes, and sought out a groundskeeper to find where Elizabeth and her companions had ventured next. He exerted himself to greet them, request introduction to her family, and make pleasant conversation.
Over half an hour later, when he and Elizabeth stopped to talk on the lawn while waiting for her aunt and uncle to catch up, he realized that at some time during the walk his distress had diminished significantly. It was as if he had gone through an exposure from group therapy, only in real life. As he chatted amiably with Elizabeth Bennet, he realized that it was unlikely that he would be stiff and tongue-tied in her presence in the future, and felt elated at the progress he had made, and hoped that she had noticed his ease of address.
He enjoyed meeting her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, who had since become good friends, as well as introducing his sister to Elizabeth. During the various calls to Lambton and Pemberley over the next two days, he had verified that he had overcome his reticence in her presence and was extremely pleased with the increasing confidence he felt around Elizabeth, even while he felt himself to be strongly affected by his emotions. Unfortunately, she received some unsettling correspondence that very day, related to her sister's elopement with Mr. Wickham, and it took them both away, Elizabeth to Longbourn, and Darcy to London. He spent a few difficult weeks rescuing her wayward sister's reputation by bribing Wickham to marry Miss Lydia, but the newly married Wickhams were now away to a new life in Newcastle, hopefully far enough away to cause the Bennets and the Darcys much less distress in the future.
Elizabeth's reaction to his company while in Derbyshire, and his efforts at addressing the faults she had seen in him, had left him in hope of her good opinion of him, but he still felt some uncertainty about whether she would welcome a courtship. However, intelligence from an unlikely source encouraged Darcy to return to Hertfordshire with alacrity once he had completed his business in London and bid farewell to the Gardiners. It seemed that his aunt, Lady Catherine, had confronted Elizabeth and had been unable to extract agreement from Elizabeth to vow to never accept a proposal of marriage from him.
Merely days after resuming his attentions to Elizabeth, he was rewarded by her obviously improved opinion of him, and acceptance of his addresses. This time, Darcy was able to remember all the tender words he had intended to say when he proposed to his beloved, and in return, Elizabeth had expressed that some time ago, when she realized the truth of his kindness and generousity, she had also fallen in love with him. She had come to admire his quiet and thoughtful demeanour as an appropriate balance to her liveliness, and she had called him the best of men. Thus, he had won the hand of the woman he had long admired and loved.
His next challenge had been to gain her father's permission and blessing for the marriage. He had been a little worried about the audience with Mr. Bennet, because Elizabeth had predicted her father would take his time approving the match, and during the audience, he would sport with Darcy for his own amusement. Darcy was justifiably pleased with his own responses during Mr. Bennet's teasing inquisition, and although tense, he had maintained an air of confidence and capability without appearing proud or condescending.
During the pleasant first days of their engagement, Darcy and Elizabeth enjoyed many walks in the paths around Longbourn and Netherfield, with long conversations which found many areas of similar interest, and lively discussions where their opinions differed. Darcy had even ventured to flirt with Elizabeth, which seemed to please her exceedingly. Of course, she continued to tease him, but now he was able to be at ease in her company, and be attentive to her reactions, not just his own discomfort. Darcy understood that the discomfort was normal, and sometimes even helpful. As frightening they were, the feelings were not dangerous. In order to overcome his fears, he would experience the high anxiety and remain in the situation until the anxiety would finally subside.
He had become so much more confident in his newly found social skills that he was even tentatively looking forward to enjoying Bingley's upcoming engagement ball, and the dances he intended to share with his future bride and sisters, now that he no longer had the fear of requesting or performing in the dance. Even though Fitzwilliam Darcy was still a shy and reserved man, who was sometimes a little proud, he knew now that he was able to improve his reactions to uncomfortable situations, and therefore display a considerate and polite interest whenever he would be required to perform in conversation with strangers.
He slowed his mount and entered the courtyard of Longbourn. With a great joy in his heart, he saw Elizabeth at the window, her countenance mirroring his ecstatic smile. Typical of her unconventional nature, she met him in the hall rather than waiting in the parlour, and she had somehow arranged that they were alone long enough to be able to steal a kiss. At that moment, Darcy believed he had never before been so content. His future with Elizabeth most certainly held much promise of felicity, so much that he no reason for worries or fears.
An excellent web site with self-help resources for social anxiety and other common mental health-related issues is http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/consumers.cfm