I was diagnosed with mathophobia when I was in the eighth grade.
Math has been like a nagging stepmother to me. I never got good grades in math.
In school, I used to write plays and recite poetry but people who wanted to show me where I belonged always asked me my math results.
Before every math exam, I used to show symptoms of complete insanity with my best friends calling me up to console me even before I took the test. On the day of examination, the eerie exam hall would witness a subdued sniffling during the last few minutes when the invigilator asked us to check our papers that later turned into a hysterical sobbing driving all my friends wild. I never failed in math, but I never scored well either. It was I against me where I refused to accept that I was an alarmingly mediocre student but my grades always proved it to me. :)
Somehow I managed to put up a fight with math during the last two years of high school getting respectable grades in my final year but I slipped back to being a daft math student during my higher secondary exams.
My Higher Secondary Certificate results were so appalling that my parents asked me to shift to taking arts after they saw the mark sheet. I was always good at languages. While math contributed to bringing my average grades down languages always helped me out to stay even with my other friends.
Everyone who came to know of my results came and asked me to shift to arts. They gave examples of people who have hit it big in the advertisement industry. They told me about copywriters who made truckloads of money. Somehow even though the thought of having that wicked subject off my back for ever seemed really enticing, I did not quite appreciate the idea of being a loser who shifted to arts and then hit it big. :)
So I very innocently took up Chemical Engineering since that was the only available discipline for the kind of grades I had.
I was completely disillusioned in about three months of beginning my first semester. I spent all of it sleepless and nervous to the point of exhaustion. I realized that the University had been cunning enough to fool naive people into taking up Engineering by naming the subjects deceptively. Whatever you wished to study, it was all mathematics. Even Drawing, which I thought of in a rather poetic manner earlier, was wickedly laced with mathematics. A deadly bug called math thus infested my whole life.
I was so possessed by the fear of math that I passed out flat while I was studying with my best friend a day before the math paper. On the day of exam I resembled the melancholy goat that knows that in a matter of hours it is going to be presented on a bright white china plate along with red wine.
I am being unnecessarily explicit by writing that I flunked the test. Of course, I was “allowed to keep terms” so could take five devastatingly fresh subjects to go along with my earlier math failure. I managed to clear everything by the end of the third semester.
By the end of fourth semester, I realized that Chemical Engineering was essentially Mathematics disguised in various forms. We used to have one Math subject each semester even as we reached the pre-final semester. Anything else was essentially math along with some chemical mumbo-jumbo. Every paper that we appeared for was a math paper with problems that would take up all of our supplements and yet have no definite answer.
When we came out of the hall, there would be around three groups of people with three different (but same within the group) answers and the typical class toppers would want to go to the professor to find out what the right answer was. I used to hate all of them with all my heart. When they set out like victorious warriors to go and see the professor I felt like pushing them off the stairs. I used to quietly leave the place while they thumped their fists on table for every right answer and calculated their results even before the papers were out of the campus. At first it was very distressing, but later I developed this saintly attitude. I never bothered about the result (until I got it in black and white on a shiny sheet of paper at the end of each semester) I just studied and appeared for exams.
Sometimes the professors who set the paper made mistakes in forming the questions in which case the students got full marks for the attempt. So every time I left for a math paper, I used to pray to God that it be filled with wrong, unchecked lousy problems with many misprints and typographical errors. I can state without any doubt that all the math papers where in I have managed to get decent grades are a result of the paper-setters’ negligence.
While my computer science friends moved on to the more mysterious world of virtual languages, I was still offered gross mathematics needed to solve earthly problems like blowing up of reactors or process reactions going out of control. As they converged into a world that never needed any raw material except a lot of gray matter, I learned statistics, process control and economics. There was never a dull moment. I was almost always frightened and perpetually worried about getting my GPA dangerously low. When I realized that the math offered to us in a particular semester was beyond my control, I used to slog painfully hard to try and make up with whatever ray of light I had in the management and economics section where I always scored the highest in class.
I had predicted my fate. I had concluded that by the end of four years, I would be a vegetable with no confidence left. In my mind, I often yelled at myself for being such an outrageously ambitious Idiot and taking up something I would have to deal with for four long years. Those four long years, incidentally seemed very short.
I graduated with an above average GPA, and the only fear of another miserable failure was quelled.
As a part of my job I need to use everything that I learned as a Chemical Engineering student. I need statistics, I need my skills of good observation, of looking at a heap of numbers and trying to get them to make sense, of predicting the behavior of toxic compounds, of finding out why a particular method of extraction fails for a particular matrix, of trying to eliminate the unwanted billionth part of a healthy fruit. :)
All of this needs math. In fact all of everything needs math.
I am still lousy when it comes to mathematics. I don’t go to the point of asking Math out, but I never go to the lengths of standing it out either. Those four years have not made me a better Math student or even a Problem-savvy-alpha-woman. If I am given a random process problem, I may not get it right in the first attempt (or even the tenth for that matter) but I know that I will not give up till I get it right. :)
My petrified pursuit of math has taught me to fight. Somehow that spirit is now my personality. I fight equally hard in all areas of my life. Including making meticulous work schedules and following them to the hilt and getting up at Godly hours to hit the gym.
I think I did a wise thing and stayed with math after the catastrophic HSC result. The God of Numbers doesn’t hate me as much anymore. We have reached a truce. :)