Last night, I dreamed of math. More precisely, I dreamed that tonight’s midterm for my Death & Dying class consisted largely of GRE-style math questions, which I was totally unprepared to answer. I have been feeling pretty confident about the test, especially since it’s an open note exam. But in my dream, when I sat down to take the thing, none of the questions were even in my notes because they all involved complex mathematical calculations. Yikes!

Now, keep in mind that I am atrocious at math — I actually scored a 430 (out of 800) on the math portion of the GRE. That is barely even half of the total possible points, and I think you get 200 just for writing your name correctly. I took it again two years later when I was applying for PhD programs, and with three months of expensive tutoring, I managed to bring my score all the way up to a whopping 510. That’s — hold on, I can do this — an 80 point increase. How much did I pay for each of those points? I don’t even want to know. But since my mediocre goal was to get over 500 points, I was disproportionately happy that I did it.

My inability to do math has become something of a phobia for me, which of course only serves to make me worse at math. It’s a vicious cycle. So it is very interesting that my subconscious mind would conflate a test I’m nervous about with the incomprehensible language of math. No, I’m not talking about the midterm here, since I’m not taking the class for credit (and might not even attend the test — yikes!) But it is a class on death and dying, and it has given me a lot of homework that cannot be found in any workbook or solved with any answer key.

No, the test I’m so nervous about that it manifests itself in my worst mathematical nightmares is a different kind of test altogether, one which I have been cramming for almost two years to pass. It involves fun multiple choice questions such as these: How is it possible for my dad to be dying when I’m only 27? Will the amount of anticipatory grief I’m experiencing alleviate or aggravate the amount of grief I feel when he’s gone? Am I spending enough time with my family? Too much? Should I get out of bed today, or should I take out all my frustrations on my garden? Hmm. Choice C, none of the above? Or is it choice D, all of the above?

Little wonder then that my current situation is leading me to have flashbacks to taking the math portion of the GRE. Those concepts were also huge and incomprehensible, and while I knew they were vitally important for me to wrap my head around, I had no idea where to even start.

Somehow, my dream took all of this anxiety and conflated it with tonight’s very simple midterm, which I find fascinating. So, although it violates every bone in my geeky academic body, perhaps I should take the message my subconscious mind was clearly trying to send me and not go to class tonight after all. I think I’d be better off studying for the much bigger test in my life by spending the time with my family instead. Or maybe I’m just that scared of math…!

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