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Trigger Warning: Abuse

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Ten Years of Numberphile

Numberphile just reached its tenth anniversary on November 11th, 2021. I can’t believe that I’ve been watching this show for close to a decade. I wasn’t there at the beginning. I didn’t catch on to it until 2012 and officially became a fan after watching the 12-12-12 video on Dozenal

They did a classic Numberphile episode on the number 10 to celebrate the occasion. This led to a discussion on friendly numbers. 

This didn’t interest me so much until I found out that my favorite number, 18, was a solitary number. 

That felt about right. 

I started reflecting on what Numberphile means to me. It is a story of trauma, healing, and making new choices. It is never too late to do what you want with your life. I’m not saying it is easy. 

I am on a very difficult path right now but I’m still focused on my long-term goals related to mathematics. Sometimes we have to put things on hold but we don’t have to give up. I think part of life is knowing when to pause for your own health. 

Loneliness Dominates my Life for 18 Years

I don’t talk about my early life with people very often. It is very clear to my friends that things went wrong. I used to be more outspoken but I realized that level of pain just causes more pain when you try to discuss it. 

What people don’t realize is that talking about trauma re-traumatizes a person. No matter how intimate you are with a person you do not have a right to their pain. Don’t ask someone to prove your connection by sharing their past. They will tell you when the time is right for them. 

My mother calls my childhood a state of benign neglect. My mother’s clinical depression kept her in bed most days. My father was a workaholic and usually didn’t come home until after my bedtime. My brother wanted nothing to do with me. Our sibling rivalry was intense. On top of that, when my family did talk to me they didn’t listen to me. This was confirmed to me by a family therapist who observed our interactions. I was alone in my own home. 

School wasn’t much better. I was relentlessly bullied. It didn’t help to go to adults for help. I was basically told that I deserved it for being a weird kid. Parents told their children not to play with me. So, I was also isolated from my peers. 

This sounds really sad but it wasn’t for me. I made a choice. I learned to become my own best friend and keep my own company. I understood that if people treat you like that then you don’t really need friends like that. That it wasn’t worth the time and effort. 

(Art by Ted Naifeh,  image found here.)

As Courtney Crumrin says, “I’m rude, bad-tempered, and basically, I don’t like people. Maybe that makes me a jerk, but it sure beats what you are.” 

I always knew as an adult, things would get better. My life changed when I met my best friend on the first day of college. We’ve been together for over twenty years. 

Facing the Consequences of Abuse

One thing you may not know about abuse is that the victim over time will internalize the things the abuser says to them. You begin to believe that you are a bad person and deserve the punishment you receive. This can lead to feelings of self-loathing. 

This happened to me in regards to my love of Science. I was told repeatedly by others not to discuss math and science. My attempts to connect with others were thwarted. I had a bully in my life who used my positive feelings to emotionally abuse me because they knew they could hurt me. 

I developed a complex where I loved science and hated myself for loving science. That is where I was when I started watching Numberphile. 

I remember crying tears of joy over certain episodes. The show opened my heart again and ignited that passion that I had lost. It also forced me to confront my trauma but I now had something I didn’t before. A community. 

I saw that mathematicians were people like me. People who loved math for the sake of math alone. I could often see the love that I felt reflected back to me in those videos. It was okay to feel again and I didn’t have to bury my emotions. It took a decade, but I learned to cope with my early experiences. I’ve made new choices.

What I’m Doing Now

Not too long ago, I made the choice to return to school to earn an undergraduate degree in mathematics. I did a quarter at Portland State University before the pandemic hit. Unfortunately, I had to make the choice between continuing school or buying a house. I bought the house. So I’m currently on hiatus until I can save for college. 

I often think of what legacy that I can leave to mathematics. I don’t believe that I will become a mathematician. Math is really hard folks! The abstract aspects of it are giving me lots of trouble. I don’t want to count it out. At the same time, I accept my limitations. Instead, I think my legacy will be science writing. That is why I’m currently working on a children’s book related to Alan Turing. 

Lastly, I’m volunteering with THRIVE Lifeline. A text crisis line for marginalized groups in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine). I run their Facebook page. This is a great way to turn my negative experiences into positive ones for others. I now know that I wasn’t a failure for dropping out of the sciences; it is the system that failed me. 

I’m not exactly sure how to end this. Maybe that is okay. All I can truly say is that Numberphile changed the direction of my life.