My Year of Math

By: Vicki Parnell

“You’re doing WHAT? WHY?”

“I feel anxious just thinking about that.”

With reactions like this, you’d think I was I talking about going skydiving, wrestling with sharks, or conducting some kind of dangerous medical experiments on my body. Nothing that scary… I was merely taking university-level math.

Last year I decided to pursue a longtime dream by applying to graduate school in psychology. Before I could do that, I made a daunting choice to re-take first year calculus. Calculus isn’t required for my program, but I had failed this class twelve years earlier. Re-taking and passing the course would improve my GPA and give me a better chance of getting into graduate school.

The reaction I got from friends, colleagues, academic advisors and other psychology students was almost unanimous: “MATH? Couldn’t I get out of that? Why would anyone subject themselves to a non-required, very hard math class?”

The thing is that I have Self-Reg now to help me reframe my past failure. When I last took calculus, I was under immense stress. I was trying to juggle full-time courses in computer science with parenting a very intense, stressed-out little boy (see previous blog “Making Bad Choices”) who was struggling in school. Now my life is very different. My children are grown up and thriving. I know how to manage my stress, energy and tension much better thanks to Self-Reg. And besides, in elementary school I remembered liking math… Why shouldn’t I attempt calculus again?

Thus began my year of math.

I found a pre-calculus textbook and started re-learning the basics; my spare moments became filled with algebra and trigonometry. After a summer of intensive review, in September I showed up for my first calculus lecture, eager and ready to learn.

I did everything I could to reduce my stress around this course. I previewed the material before lectures, and blocked off a lot of time in my schedule for study and review. I became a frequent visitor to my professor’s office and made use of all the wonderful online resources that weren’t available the last time I took this course. I also overcame test anxiety by reframing it as stress behaviour!

I have worked harder on this than I have worked in a very long time. It has still been challenging, but my stress around learning this material has been manageable. It was worth it.

My year of math isn’t over yet; in a month I’ll be sitting down to write the final exam. But instead of feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, I’m feeling remarkably good about it. Self-Reg has given me the gift of seeing this experience differently, and of seeing myself differently. What Stuart says is absolutely true: when you do Self-Reg, you can transform a negative stress into a positive one. Thanks to that, I have rediscovered the part of myself that used to like math. I have found the pleasure of working hard at a difficult math problem, and the reward of that moment when you figure out the solution. I am going to miss this.

Contributions on the Self-Reg Community blog page come from various members of our TMC team and folks in our Self-Reg Foundations program.