What it Feels Like to not be able to do the math

Kaitlyn Howe // As told to by Kaitlyn Howe

Math has always been one of my favorite subjects in school. No work was the same to me; I was addicted to the concrete answers. The solidarity was a calming diversion in a place of high stakes and tough academic competition. My test scores came back: all As in my classes and in the 95th percentile for standardized tests. I radiated pride as I ran into my house to show my parents. Their congratulatory remarks made me happy, but my smile really resulted from exceeding my own personal standards.

My grade school allowed me to be comfortable with myself and be known for my individuality. Judgment was relatively low. My classmates and I knew everything about each other; this was often the result of going to school with the same 50 kids for nine-plus years. However, I anticipated high school to be much different.

My class size more than sextupled from grade school to middle school. I had a lingering thought of hesitation at the idea of being well-rounded, but I looked to high school with bright eyes and a fast-beating heart; I was ecstatic about the person I wanted to become. I envisioned myself a cheer-leading, Tom-Tomming, fashion-innovating, honors-achieving, friend-making teenager.

Freshman year consisted of trial and error. I had surface-level friendships in most of my classes; we made small-talk and complained about the amount of homework in our honors classes. But besides the 50 minutes we spent together every day, that was usually the only interaction we had.

My test-run of a freshman year had been worth the lessons I had learned. I accepted that you only really talked to some people for 50 minutes a day, which was okay. The close friendships I had made were still valid after 2:50 p.m. We would text, Snapchat and gossip all day during school and well into the night. I had finally felt like the line between my school life and my social life had begun to blur.

Junior year came bursting in like a storm. Weekdays were long with school, practices and homework, but weekends flew by with parties and hang-outs. I had been in honors and AP classes before, but nothing like this class load. After a few weeks, I became accustomed to the work and learned how to juggle everything I had going on. I function better when I am busy; I have known that for a while.

I liked the quote, “remember when you wanted all the things you have now.” This made me reminisce on my future idea of myself that I created in middle school. All aspects of my personality felt like they added up to one thing: me. I felt accomplished in that I had developed strong friendships, secured a spot on the varsity cheer team and enjoyed my classes, for the most part.

I was content with the person I had become, but I found out that the people around me weren’t as approving.

Preconceived ideas of me ruined my opportunity of success and, more importantly, happiness. I felt like I was being stereotyped as a “dumb cheerleader” and treated accordingly. “So, what if I like to wear makeup and take an interest in the clothes I wear to school?” I thought. But, I grew anxious walking into class every Friday sporting my cheer uniform. Those around me believed that because I present myself a certain way, my intellectual capabilities were automatically restricted; I could not do the math.

After mentally priding myself on reaching a personal goal, I automatically felt shut down. Some days, I reverted from my usual look in hopes of approval. I wanted to blend in as much as I could to avoid passive-aggressive comments. This treatment affected not only my appearance but also my work ethic. The self-deprecating comments distracted me from my school work and negatively impacted my academic performance.

This behavior went on for some time. When I consulted my mom about it, she suggested I confront who talked badly about me. If I didn’t, she would.

My constant discomfort in my own skin led to some self-reflection. I was letting people whom I interacted with for a small time impact the rest of my day and my self-esteem. I knew who I was, and I knew who I had wanted to be; why would I let outside forces reckon with this? I took this situation as a life lesson, mostly because I knew this would not be the only time people made me feel this way.

I began living my life with no restrictions. I wore however much or little makeup I wanted to. Whether I wanted to wear a dress or sweatpants, I wore what I felt most comfortable in. I talked about cheer, fashion or anything “girly” I was passionate about in any class with anyone who related. I began to help those around me with any little act of service I could give; I also accepted when the tables turned and I had to reach out for help.

One plus one, two plus two, graphing inverse trigonometric functions: that was math I could do. But, I never quite understood how preconceived ideas equals who you truly are.