I had a medical scare that sent me to the ER. They suspected that I was having Transient ischemic attacks (TIA). This required that they look at my brain and they performed both a CT scan and MRI.
I’ve never had an MRI before and they asked if I was claustrophobic. That is when I realized how scary things were. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, no one could be with me in the room. I was at the ER alone and I never felt so lonely.
I would not fully have to be in the MRI tube. They only needed to have my head in there. They told me that they would give me headphones and that I could listen to music. But then, oh, they put this contraption on me that made it so I couldn’t move or turn my head. That freaked me out.
So, I played a game. One that I do sometimes when I’m feeling very anxious. I try to imagine what it is like to not have a body. A being of pure thought. I imagine my consciousness as a dot in the center of my mind. I concentrate on that dot and let go of any other thoughts or sensations.
As I focus my concentration on that dot there is a sense of freedom. A way to unleash from the shackles of the finite into the infinity of the mind. I can sense and see an expansion that has no limitations.
That is how I was able to deal with everything that night. I realize now that it took a lot of courage to go to the ER alone and sit for those very uncomfortable tests.
BTW, the tests didn’t reveal anything and I got a referral to a neurologist. Grateful that there wasn’t anything more serious but what happened is still a mystery.
Much of A Mathematician’s Apology argues that pure mathematics is what we should strive for. As Hardy says, “I have never done anything “useful.” No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world.”
What Hardy means by pure mathematics is the abstract parts of mathematics. Opposed to the application of mathematics. Much of what we learn in school is procedural. Yet, there is so much more going on behind the curtain.
I recognize that I am now in a precarious situation. Having taken more math than the average person yet not being an expert in any way. It is only now that I am beginning to understand how to think like a mathematician. Approaching problems with that insight.
But, I should go back a bit, there was a time where I thought mathematics was beyond my abilities. I had put all mathematicians up on a pedestal. These towering heroes whose height I could never reach. I never believed that I was good enough at math to pursue it in school. Yet, It was facinating.
I did one year of a grad school program and was friendly with a mathematician. He taught this sort of calculus boot camp. After class, I would take the time to talk with him and I shared my stories of being a physics major.
One day, I made the biggest mistake and asked about his thesis. (It is a loaded question and can bring back bad memories.) He explained to me his research and I asked if it had a practical application. (My second mistake.) He explained that it might be in physics but it didn’t matter.
When I heard him define pure mathematics it felt like pure freedom. I recognized that this was what I had been seeking my whole life. Math for the sake of math. A chance to discover something beautiful and true.
It would still take me years of personal growth to attempt a mathematics degree. I want to be my hero now. The question I face is if I can liberate myself.
Dreams and Math Anxiety
I still suffer from math anxiety even as an adult. Every day that I step into class, I do so with a sense of failure on my shoulders. I still have to tell myself that anxiety is a lie that I told myself. This was because of my environment and the things my family, other kids, and teachers told me. The rejection that I faced. Every word of those who said that mathematics was for geniuses.
Yet, when I return to my inner dot in my mind, there is a sense of being one with mathematics. The truth is, I am very susceptible to daydreams and lucid dreaming. In those moments, all anxiety and fear are gone. I am purely in my mind free from the traps of the physical. When I dream about mathematics, I understand it on a deeper abstract level.
I remember daydreaming in my calculus class. I started thinking about chain rule and its application to multivariable calculus. I was exploring it in my mind. When I snapped out of my dream, I had written down the formula. I got it!
Sometimes, I still have to convince myself that my knowledge doesn’t come from rote memory. If my depression and anxiety were gone I would be better at mathematics. When I can chill out that is when I am at my best.
I find myself longing to give myself over to the oblivion that is an obsession with mathematics. All my favorite mathematicians were and they dedicated their lives work to it. I want to do something meaningful in the time that I have left.
This year, I had a major depressive episode in the middle of the winter quarter. I was out sick with the flu for the first two weeks and something flipped the switch in my brain. I couldn’t get out of bed or muster the energy to go to class. You know you are in a bad place when you can’t even find meaning in the thing you love the most. Devastatingly, I had to withdraw from the quarter.
I have started to understand the toll that depression has taken on my life over the years. It is only in my thirties where I was able to break free momentarily from that darkness. To have my first anxious free day. To feel desire. To experience joy without having a manic episode. Liking who I am as a person.
These are things that I’ve gotten by being on the proper medication. Working diligently on stabilizing my moods. Yet, I also feel this tug in the opposite direction. When I do have mood swings they are taking me out for longer and longer periods. I don’t have the stamina that I did in my youth to deal with them.
So, I’ve opted to move out of the big city back to a sleepy little town so that I can have the support of family. Before the pandemic, I had transferred to a school with a completely online degree. (Though all schools are like this now.) Most of my friendships exist with people that I met online or on my travels around the world. I don’t mind that there won’t be people my age there. My support network is solid.
The only thing that I can’t do there is date people. That isn’t bothering me that much. I’m kind of tired of dating. Ready to hang up my hat for now.
As it is pride month, it is okay to mention here that I discovered that I was asexual a few years ago. I figured this out because I felt a sexual attraction to someone for the first time in my life. I didn’t even recognize it at first because it was such a foreign feeling. I had to process it.
I will say that being asexual doesn’t mean you are celibate. This is the first thing that people get wrong about it. Some asexuals, including myself, still engage in physical intimacy with their partners. Asexual means that I don’t experience sexual attraction. I do still experience romantic attraction and like being in a relationship.
Coming out has been life-changing. Asexuality has its sub-culture that is unique and special.
Though I will say, I have opted to describe myself as a “Non-practising Pansexual” in homage to G.H. Hardy.
I am entering a new phase of my life. One that is a lot slower than before. I want to finish up my math degree and spend the rest of my life writing about mathematics. Appreciating and contemplating the beauty of it.
Getting through it all
I had an epiphany this year when it comes to myself. I’ve realized my positive feelings for my crush are the things that I want to tell myself. I don’t think that you can see anything in another person that you don’t have within yourself. So, I got a little trinket to remind myself of that.
It says Courage, Hope, and Willpower. These are the three traits that have gotten me through every tough moment of my life. As this chapter of my life comes to a close. I’m happier, more optimistic, and confident.
This cuff is from Michelle Mach who makes lovely math and science gifts.