My sister and I are twins but she gets math, I don't.
May 3, 2019 4:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm 29. I tried to study for a bachelors degree in mathematics, and everything went over my head. If we have questions that go a little above the routine, I can't even understand the question. It seems like my mind can't understand mathematics, but my sister understands very well and I can't accept that I should stop. Help.

I'm 29 and earned a bachelor degree in a useless humanities degree. I am also someone with a decades-long internet addiction and a tendency to prefer daydreams to reality. I have never held down a stable job and live with my parents, at home, I have never had a relationship because I don't want one. I might be a hikkikomori, except that this doesn't exist in my culture. This year, I had the opportunity to obtain a second undergraduate degree in mathematics, and went to Australia with my sister, who had the same goals. From day one, lectures were a source of tension, because everytime I don't understand something I get tense. And mathematics lectures are wordy as hell. I have the sense that when I'm listening to something, the words go into one ear and out of the other. I had two classes in math--a proof-based calculus course and a class in proving techniques. It's a huge bitch to go, because everytime I go is just another chance for the group of things I don't understand to grow. And then I had a computer science course with lectures and a book that I couldn't understand. So I just went right back to my internet addiction. But, believe me, I tried to study and spent a lot of time on homework, its just that after awhile, I seemed to be walking on a slippery surface, constantly falling behind. Also, in the calculus course, when the lecturer was going through proofs, I just have no ability to anticipate, "oh, what's he going to say next". After awhile, one day, I compare notes with my sister (and I always hate doing this, because what happens always confirms my worst fears, I have many years of experience of this feeling). And she's like, yes I understood it. I almost cried standing in the hallway in front of the lecture theatre.

After one month, I give up and spend another month futzing around on campus, sleeping in until 2pm, staying up until 4am. Trying to see if I can salvage any understanding of math. I've also taken the calculus midterm, and I get 50%. My sister get 85%. And pretty much the whole time I'm in Australia, I have this little running track in my heart and mind, of every single past instance of failure, every time someone was like, oh, your sister is smarter than you. (We went for a disastrous Russian language course in Moscow in 2017, it lasted 10 months, my OCD relapsed.)

Well, we have always known we were fraternal twins. No one else seems to have ever written about the terrible experience of having the material consequences of your DNA just roll out like the plot of a novel. So I suppose this is little contribution on my part.

I'm newly arrived at home, trying to study. Still. My sister got her other midterm result back and she recieved full marks. I really don't know what to say anymore. I don't have any attractive options, I always had trouble finding work and now I'm looking at some very menial jobs that pay 8 dollars an hour. I also have an acceptance from a university in Sweden. I'm wondering, if I study harder, will it get better? It seems like my brain doesn't have the ability to be analytical and abstract. How do I know this? Since I was 16 I have stopped discussing ideas with anyone, especially my sister, because it gives me the same feeling I had in that goddam hallway.

In the meantime, I've started having the weirdest fantasies (along the lines of turning into a dragon and going to live on a magical island, and just not seeing my family anymore, they have been nothing but indulgent, loving, supportive, and not blaming me for anything) and wonder if I will soon become completely unstuck from reality. My mother believes in fortune telling. She once got this prophecy that my sister and brother are academic and I'm not. (I don't believe in fortunes, I'm just coincidentally not academic.) She had another prophecy stating that I'd go crazy when I am 31. The jury is still out on that.

The upside is, I've come to realize that life is very magical. I can do even the craziest things and nothing is going to stop me. The outcome will also be interesting. And ... that's it from me, guys. Please, if you have advice, insight, commiserations, please write them down, I paid 8 dollars and waited one long week for this!

I need some career advice, study advice, learning disability advice. Just some advice on life, dealing with failure. Also, should I continue studying? I seem destined for a small and poor life, which is exactly what I do not want!
posted by catbird to Education (30 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's request -- restless_nomad

This question might get deleted (don't take it to heart, AskMe is just a little strict about format and so forth) so I just wanted to say this first: who cares how good you are at math. Or Russian. I'm better than my siblings at math, but less successful by many objective measures and there is no lack of things they can do but I can't.

I'm not going to talk about career advice or learning strategies, because it sounds like the bigger issue is that you're convinced those things are necessary in order to not have a what you called a poor or small life. A poor life in my opinion is one in which you end up making the world a worse place for having been in it. A good life is one in which you do the opposite, even on a modest scale. Whether a "small" life is good or not is a matter of personal preference, and it's not clear that it doesn't actually suit your preferences (if not what you think those preferences should be).

I do know the feeling of being limited by [physical, mental] constraints, and having to reevaluate dreams, and it's really not an easy one. But in the end we all have limitations of one kind of another, and the question is what you do given that they exist. You might benefit from having a regular person to talk about this with (therapy); looking for fictional or real-life accounts of "small" but good lives just to see how you feel about the different aspects portrayed; and looking at the people in your life who have made it in any way better. What did they do to make it better? What skills did they use? What skills were irrelevant?

And stop going on educational programs with your sister or anyone else you're going to measure yourself against.
posted by trig at 4:59 AM on May 3 [30 favorites]

(By the way, in talking about limitations it might sound like I agree with your assessment of yourself, but frankly I don't. You say "It seems like my brain doesn't have the ability to be analytical and abstract", but you also have a degree in the humanities. I really don't think your issue is that you're not capable; I think it's that you've decided you need to be good at things overall instead of focusing on and believing in your strengths - which is what most people do, in reality. Some of your humanities profs would have failed your math courses, and some of your math professors might be incapable of putting together a decent sentence or analyzing a text. It's okay.)
posted by trig at 5:08 AM on May 3 [4 favorites]

Catbird I think it’s not that your sister is smarter than you, but just that your strengths lie in different areas and you may not have discovered yours yet. I do know how it feels to feel inferior though, so I’m sorry you’re going through this.

You seem to have an amazing imagination, just as evidenced from your ideas in this post about turning into a dragon and living on a magical island. Have you ever tried creative writing? Also you must have insight into other cultures if you know about hikkikomori, yet say it isn’t a thing in your culture.

If I were you I would forget about the maths and Russian and focus on exposing myself to new ideas, experiences and developing new skills. Take a pottery class. Travel (maybe without your sister...) Learn a musical instrument or how to cook a dish from another country. Remember it takes persistence to become really good at something, but keep trying and you will find a fit for you.

If you catch those thoughts saying your sister is smarter than you, practice telling yourself to stop thinking that, and redirect your thoughts to anything else at all, as long as it’s positive.
posted by EatMyHat at 5:13 AM on May 3 [7 favorites]

Why do you keep going back to school? Unless you have a specific need for math or Russian why study it when you find studying so stressful? I'm all for studying whatever random subject appeals to you for whatever reasons unless it causes such a hardship.

Have you ever met with a career counselor, someone who can help you make an inventory of your interests and talents and point to occupations- some of which might be completely unfamiliar to you- that might appeal to you? You might be pleasantly surprised to find you already have the required education for any number of rewarding positions, or you might find that a simple training course can prepare you, or you may find that going back to university will be necessary to pursue an occupation you find attractive.

You might also consider getting with some therapy to help you overcome your feelings of inadequacy and to learn skills that will help you cope better.

You are obviously very intelligent and imaginative, you just need to find the right work for you. Some of us, myself included, don't find that in our twenties, or thirties. Best of luck to you.
posted by mareli at 5:30 AM on May 3 [16 favorites]

I’m not a twin, but my brother and I are similar enough that we get mistaken for each other.

I’m a lawyer. He took 1 course in law school and quit. He trained in economics. I don’t understand economics at all. Different people are different, and they’re good at different things. Even if they’re siblings. Even if they’re twins.

Who cares if you’re good at maths? If you don’t like it, and it doesn’t interest you, and you hate the experience of studying it, wouldn't the most sensible thing to do be to try something else? Go find something you like and are good at, and stop worrying about what you think you should be good at because of heredity or whatever.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:38 AM on May 3 [26 favorites]

You have a bachelors degree. You’ve been to different universities, traveled or have the opportunity to (Australia, Sweden). You’ve explored various topics in various places that some people never have the time, money, or privilege to do so. I wouldn’t call that a small or poor life that you’ve already lived.

I’d kindly suggest going to a career center, trying a job even if it’s not perfect, and finding therapy and a community (maybe other creative or humanities folks—could be helpful to hear what alternative paths other humanities graduates embarked upon.)
posted by inevitability at 5:52 AM on May 3 [8 favorites]

My mother believes in fortune telling. She once got this prophecy that my sister and brother are academic and I'm not. (I don't believe in fortunes, I'm just coincidentally not academic.) She had another prophecy stating that I'd go crazy when I am 31.

This is undermining and not supportive. She may not mean to, but it seems like comparing you negatively to your siblings and having low expectations for you is normal to your mom, and that's not okay. No wonder you are lacking in confidence!

I think you would do better apart from your family. If the university course in Sweden is for something you think you'd be a bit better at than abstract work like maths, then I suggest it. You also have to accept that you might not do perfect but that your goal is to pass, to learn, and to enjoy yourself --- if you can really get that into your head it can be very freeing to be bad at something. I wasn't that good at law school, but wow, I got so much more out of it than the people who spent all their time worried about whether they were getting an A or an A-.

I do think you'd do best in some kind of small-group housing in which you are expected to join the group for certain meals etc. But I think getting out of your family situation would be good for you.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:54 AM on May 3 [19 favorites]

You can learn math if you want to, it's just going to take a lot of practice to retrain your brain to work the way you want it to work. Human brains have amazing potential, but it's just that: potential. It's up to us to practice repeatedly until it rearranges itself to make the task easier.

That said, if math isn't what brings you pleasure, there are certainly other things out there. You certainly don't need a full computer science curriculum with all the math to program computers or to repair them or to be a network administrator, to use examples near to my own heart.
posted by wierdo at 5:54 AM on May 3 [3 favorites]

Ok, so, as posed, that‘s a lot.

1) Therapy. Not because your question is not relatable or you‘re, I don‘t know, a loser or whatever your brain is telling you right now. But because you‘re in over your head. Your last sentences say you’re desperate for help. This is above AskMe‘s paygrade.
You sound depressed, anxious, and you have an addiction. You need someone in your court and the best someone for that is a therapist. They will help you sort out this huge Thing that‘s weighing on you.
Do you think your parents would be willing to help pay for that?

2) WTF to your mom for, it seems, impressing on you her certainty that you‘re never going to be an academic and also you will become „crazy“ at 31. Way to set you up for success! Parents matter. I‘m sorry yours did that to you.

3) Being your successful self means puttiing on the blinkers and ignoring what your sister does or doesn‘t do. Comparison with her is a millstone round your neck as you find out what you actually want to do. Can‘t stop comparing? —> Therapist.
posted by Omnomnom at 5:56 AM on May 3 [10 favorites]

And pretty much the whole time I'm in Australia, I have this little running track in my heart and mind, of every single past instance of failure, every time someone was like, oh, your sister is smarter than you.

Seems to me that there are a few things going on here. One of them is the completely unrealistic expectation that you should be able to absorb mathematical and language ideas as fast as your sister can. As you said, you're fraternal twins, not identical twins; DNA therefore doesn't really enter into it. There is no reason at all why your brains should be any closer, structurally speaking, than you'd find in siblings born years apart.

Comparing your own performance with hers, then, is completely pointless and does you no good at all - except insofar as it's reasonable to compare what she does with what you do. If she's devoting more time and more focussed attention to picking these subjects up than you are, that's going to be reflected to some extent in your success rates. This remains the case regardless of whether or not her temperament makes it easier to achieve for her than for you and regardless of whether or not that's fair.

I am also someone with a decades-long internet addiction and a tendency to prefer daydreams to reality. ... I've come to realize that life is very magical.

Life is indeed magical in the sense of being fucking amazing, but there are no magical shortcuts when it comes to getting shit done. Nobody just clicks their heels and makes a wish three times and it happens. You have to put in the hours, and whatever you spend your time practising is what you will end up being highly skilled at.

The dark side of this fact is exactly what you're now experiencing: you've spent a hell of a long time on polishing the skill of comparing yourself to your sister, convincing yourself that you don't and can't measure up, and feeling like shit as a result. From what you've written here, it seems like that's a skill you've got a solid lock on. So I would gently suggest to you that you don't actually need any more practice at that for the time being.

From now on, every time you notice yourself comparing your own performance to your sister's, remind yourself gently to compare it to your own performance as of yesterday instead. If it's no better, give serious and considered thought to the question of why that might be. What habit can you work to override today in order to make the skills comparison come out in tomorrow-you's favour tomorrow? And is that even something you actually want to achieve?

I can do even the craziest things and nothing is going to stop me.

Welcome to adulthood.

The outcome will also be interesting.

Whether it's interesting and whether you like it are two different things.

When you're poring over your menu of crazy options, don't leave out the part where you take a quick look around and see how choosing those options has worked out for other people. You're on the internet a lot, so you have a world's worth of other people's experiences to draw upon.

Other people's fuckups are a great gift; learn to use them wisely. It's way, way easier to choose not to do a thing that has a 99% chance of ending really badly than it is to choose to do a thing that requires sustained practice in order to end well; the time that any of us has to devote to sustained practice is limited so it pays to be reasonably convinced it's not going to be wasted before committing to it.

One of the most time-wasting fuckups I've committed myself is putting time and effort into trying to acquire skills I don't actually value very highly in order to conform to the expectations of other people. This makes learning insanely difficult, because practice is not the simple doing of a thing over and over; it's the doing of a thing over and over in a deliberate and conscious attempt to do it better each time, and the only way I know to get that done is to want to get it done.

So what, then, does a newly minted autonomous I-could-in-fact-do-anything adult want to do?

Turns out that this is a genuinely difficult question. I didn't really start to address it head-on until I was a few years older than you. Perhaps some of what I learned about it might be of use to you.

First thing is to think about what your needs are, in priority order, and make some kind of workable plan you can use to ensure they continue to get met. I would suggest the following as a base set. They're arranged in order of the speed at which their lack would probably kill you.

1. A reliable supply of air.
2. A reliable supply of potable water.
3. A low risk of being the target of violence.
4. A reliable supply of nutritious food.
5. Reliable access to comfortable and secure places to sleep.
6. Somebody to love.
7. Something to do.
8. Something to look forward to.

Don't waste time on addressing less important goals until you've actually got all of the above squared away.

Focus on creative ways to apply the skills you already have; life gets way way easier if you work with your strengths rather than against your weaknesses. Work on acquiring new skills as and when you find gaps in your existing skill set that you can't work around in other ways. Bear in mind that exchanging skills with other people is frequently a win for both.

Note in particular that mastery of graduate-level calculus, fluency in Russian and outranking your sister academically would appear to have no immediate application with regard to that list.
posted by flabdablet at 6:08 AM on May 3 [21 favorites]

Some people just need more practice than others to become mathematically mature in proof based mathematics. It's not a refection of your intelligence or potential by any means. I too struggle to follow mathematics lectures despite getting math degrees from the best programs in my country, and despite being as capable as most of my classmates.

Also, your anxiety and self-worth issues (not helped by your mom's bizarre pronouncements about you -- wtf is wrong with her???), And seeming preoccupation with gauging your intelligence, are probably affecting your ability to retain what you learn and excel at math. You're not in the right headspace to learn math right now from what I gather.

Why not study something that does not fuel your neuroses like this? Also, why are you taking so many degrees in different fields? Some of us are happier working and producing tangible things than epsilon delta proofs. Why not take a break from university?
posted by shaademaan at 6:17 AM on May 3 [2 favorites]

Hi. You mentioned your ocd. It seems to me this is key to the way you compare yourself to your sister - the way you write about it, it is something you are locked into, and it's compulsive. It is the ocd, focused on comparing yourself to your sister, which is completely undermining your life. This is what untreated ocd does to those who suffer from it.

You need to enter treatment, you need to do it now, and you need to take it seriously. Because as you've explained it, it doesn't matter what you succeed at, it doesn't count for you unless you are demonstrably better at it than your sister is. Can you see how irrational and unhealthy this is? I wonder how it makes her feel.

I agree with the poster who said this is above Ask Me's pay grade, you can't actually be reasoned out of an unreasonable state of mind. You need professional help to deal with a mental health issue, and that mental health issue is ocd, not lack of the right kind of mathematical brain.
posted by glasseyes at 6:35 AM on May 3 [16 favorites]

You need to get a job. Even a menial, minimum-wage job will have the benefit of exposing you to a new field of employment that you either love (yay!) or hate (that's OK too, negative data is still data), and to related fields and professions. After several aborted careers (and a "useless" Master's Degree), I took a menial job in veterinary medicine because it was in the hospital where my wife worked, I got promoted a few times, switched jobs a few times, and ended up working in the business office of a major veterinary teaching hospital, but I never really fell in love with the field the way my wife did. However, that job is how I learned of an entry-level job in the veterinary medicine library at the university where I work, and now I have a job that I love and I am going to school for a graduate degree in library science. Do some experimenting with jobs instead of education.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:41 AM on May 3 [11 favorites]

Mental Focus and discipline are some of the core skills acquired from beginning to study mathematics. They are not the prerequisites. Calculus with proofs is not the best place to start.
posted by bdc34 at 6:55 AM on May 3 [2 favorites]

Therapy is kind of a default advice, but also for a reason -- I think you would really, really benefit from talking to someone. You can do online/text-based therapy for quite low fees, though if you can afford it, I would recommend shopping around for an in-person therapist. You don't mention your cultural background, but finding a therapist from the same background as you can be hugely helpful -- with your internet addiction, anxiety, comparisons, OCD, all of it. And that weird, awful thing your mother told you.

No, you don't have the same skills as your twin. Wouldn't it be dreadful if we were all exactly alike? Getting out of this comparative mindset will take work, but you're wildly creative and motivated to have a happier life -- do what you can to change how you see yourself and the world and, as another poster said, work with your strengths.

(Incidentally, it sounds like you might be aromantic/asexual. It seems like this isn't particularly bothering you, but I note it because I found it really comforting to know that I'm part of a community, and that not wanting a relationship or sex is perfectly fine.)
posted by kalimac at 7:25 AM on May 3

Other people are giving good life advice, but to comment specifically on your academic abilities - it sounds like you have a fixed mindset about your mathematical / computer programming / academic abilities. Check out this video explaining what this means and why it's important. You have the ability to understand math. Maybe you are not responding to the teaching style. Personally, I have to get really hands-on to learn things - I've failed a math-related class once and then aced it the next time just by approaching learning differently.

One thing to try would be to work really hard to learn one small concept in your math book, maybe by watching videos, having someone tutor you, doing all the practice problems over and over, etc. Work on one concept until you can reliably solve a problem and really get it. Don't worry about if this actually helps you in class or not. I think these small wins are confidence boosting and you will realize that you do have the capacity to understand it!
posted by beyond_pink at 7:36 AM on May 3 [3 favorites]

Getting a job is a really good idea. It's nice to be able to point to concrete work done at the end of the day. Try to find a job that's at least a little bit affirming, though. A lot of entry-level jobs, like in food and retail, are complicated by shitty managers and people who are trying to squeeze the most out of the fewest employees, and some of them deliberately make you feel anxious or bad about yourself to get you to work harder. If you really need the money or the beginnings of a successful work history, it may be worth it, but be aware there are better and worse jobs, even at the entry level.

A volunteer job can be really good for feeling better about yourself and discovering skills. You can volunteer for literacy or tutoring language learners or kids who need one on one attention-- whatever kind of organization has a strong presence in your community. It helps you meet people you would not meet otherwise, people who are dealing with different challenges, and you may find your possibilities expanding around them.
posted by BibiRose at 7:49 AM on May 3 [5 favorites]

Do you even want to do maths? Seriously. I see you think you should be good at it, you want to be good at it because your sister is good at it, but no where do I see, man I love maths & want to kick ass at it but don't what can I do. Ask yourself why that is.
posted by wwax at 8:17 AM on May 3 [6 favorites]

I have so much empathy for you that it is bubbling up and leaking out of my ears.

I have a side hustle as a math tutor. I specialize in middle school girls who have math anxiety. I have encountered so many brilliant, attentive, driven, engaged students whose minds simply never caught on math, at least not as it’s presented in a classroom. I have a whole toolkit of alternative teaching techniques I use with these students, including art, movement/dance, and storytelling, and about 75-80% of the time, they “lock in” and get it. But the rest of the kids, the ones for whom our new goal is “I will help you with enough drilling and repetition and kindness and hand-holding so that you can memorize these functions and not be held back by poor facility and fear”? They are no less brilliant or driven or engaged.

Everyone has things they find it easy to be good at, and things they have to work hard to be good at. Everyone has things that they have to work hard to be mediocre at. This is what it is to be a human. I’m a sub-par driver and a terrible basketball player. It’s OK.
posted by KathrynT at 8:46 AM on May 3 [9 favorites]

I'm seeing that a lot of your thinking is inward. For some people, what helps is to get a job (volunteer or otherwise) that helps other people or animals. Instead of just thinking about what you want or don't want your life to be, spending a day taking care of animals in a shelter or helping feed the homeless can get you out of your head and find out that a lot of the stuff you're ruminating about isn't what life is really all about.

Also, talking to a therapist about all of this would be super helpful.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:48 AM on May 3 [2 favorites]

You and your sister are fraternal twins. That means you each come from a separate egg and separate sperm. You are NOT genetically identical. You and your sister have as much chance of being similar or dissimilar as any two siblings born separately.

So feel free to get over this idea that because you're twins, you're supposed to be keeping up with your sister and because you aren't, it's some kind of anomaly.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:57 AM on May 3 [5 favorites]

I want to note too that being good at languages and being good at pure math go hand in hand for some people. If that's your sister, it's not that she's "better than you" at two distinct things, rather your brains differ in a way that shows up in two areas people often think of as distinct. I'm ridiculously similar to my (non-twin) brother. I have the math/languages brain. He doesn't and I do think he hit a point in college where he realised that he should do the things he wanted to do, not the things I was doing, and it was a tad awkward (I'm sure I didn't help either). But he's his own person who is good at slightly different things to me.

(Also, at least in the US, 50 percent on a midterm in a proof-based calculus course would be about par, even among people who are perfectly successful math students. 85 is kicking butt. I had a (honors) real analysis course where the professor was hell bent on 90 being an A. He made us retake the midterm and do a big extra credit project because that was the only way that was feasible.)
posted by hoyland at 9:09 AM on May 3 [4 favorites]

If I could choose for you, I would say stop studying math for now. Get a job based on the skills and attributes you have. Your mother's prophecy that you would not be academic has already been proved wrong - you have a degree. You are sufficiently academic, if that's a thing that matters.

You are not a lesser version of your sister, you are your own whole and complete self. This would be true no matter how much DNA you shared with her. You deserve a happy, fulfilling and productive life and you can have one.

I agree with the others that it sounds very much like you would benefit from therapy because you have so many thoughts that would benefit from unpacking and in some cases challenging.
posted by plonkee at 9:13 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]

I'm also a shut-in with an internet addiction, would prefer to be sleeping and dreaming all day, haven't had a proper job in four years, dropped out of college. I'm always feeling like I need to avoid my family, partner, friends because I'm a disappointment. Turning into a dragon and running away from it all sounds like heaven. I'm desperate to be good at something. But I was good at math in college, and I know that I couldn't keep up with a course right now because of how mired down I am in brain fog from being constantly dissociated and depressed and out of practice. Any chance your circumstances have been running you down and putting you at a disadvantage?

I'm really impressed by how open to opportunity you've been. I think that you should set yourself up for success and take opportunities that you feel confident about and that will connect you with people again. So try to get an affirming job or volunteer, or do the Swedish university if it's going to be in subjects you know you can handle, like others said. But try not to overextend yourself right away. Baby steps, basically, to build up your confidence and help you keep the momentum going.

And this probably seems counterintuitive, but I would also say that if you try something and it turns out not to be working for you for whatever reason - if you're not good at it, or the environment makes you feel bad - you don't have to stick it out to prove anything. It's better if you can recognize when it's not working as early as possible and be able to back out gracefully instead of burning out and then be free to move onto the next thing. It won't mean you failed, it just isn't for you, and that's useful information to have in the future. If your family are actually supportive, it sounds like you have the perfect safety net right now that you can take advantage of, too.

And if you haven't been sharing your feelings about all of this with them and you feel comfortable opening up, maybe you can start with the person you trust to be the most understanding. I get really avoidant and shame-filled about how I am but whenever I talk about it with my partner, which is still really uncomfortable for me, I realize that he's not judging me at all. He helps me sort out what's depression-brain and what's reality, and it's validating when he's extra proud when I achieve something he knows is a struggle for me.
posted by gaybobbie at 9:53 AM on May 3 [2 favorites]

I say this with great love: Who even cares if you're bad at math? I'm terrible at math -- I too have a humanities degree and I make a living using that (it's not useless at all!) and when I have to do math, I get out my calculator. (I hire someone to do my taxes.) Literally this does not matter in the world AT ALL unless you get a job where there is a lot of math. Plenty of jobs require no math. As an adult in the world, as long as you can add/subtract/multiply/divide, you are fine. This is all most people's full and rich lives even require. I am a successful person and I literally have never taken calculus. I would stab myself in the face if I had to take another math class in my life. It will all be okay!

You're 29 and you have a college degree already, I am not sure why you're still going back to school to study stuff you're not good at, and seemingly don't like? Get yerself a good therapist and unpack some of this stuff but you have my permission to forget about trying to enjoy or be good at math just because your sister is. Not everyone is good at everything!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:38 AM on May 3 [5 favorites]

My mother was a math teacher. I am absolutely terrible at math. I solved that problem by going into a field that does not require math: librarianship. Sure, I'm not contributing directly to the world by creating things using math, but there's a whole bunch of people learning to use math to create things that require my services.

I also used to think I was absolutely terrible at logical calculations beyond math as well, until I discovered that I'm totally fine at them if I have a concrete, real-world problem that I am interested in that requires them. I'm not talking a mathematical problem, but "I want to code a webpage that will randomly generate art prompts." I can figure out the logic and calculations there, but if you slapped an algebra problem in front of me and told me to solve it, no way I could, because I don't care.
posted by telophase at 12:00 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

Are you in Australia as an international student? Because that does limit your options for jobs (though min wage in Australia is at least around $16-$18 an hour so I'm not sure why you're earning half that).

If you're on international student health insurance, you should still be able to access the 10 Medicare-covered therapy sessions/year thing (Mental Health Care Plan). Find your GP, even an on-campus one, and ask for that to be organised. This was a lifesaver for me when I had a mental health relapse in Brisbane as an international student.

Talk to your school's offices that deal with disability, academic support, and/or international students, they may be able to help you. Is switching degrees an option?

(If you're not an international student most of the above still apply, though your job options are a lot bigger as you're not bound to the 20 hours/week limitation)
posted by divabat at 5:55 PM on May 3

Also if you're in Melbourne feel free to PM me if you wanna chat.
posted by divabat at 5:56 PM on May 3

Anyone can learn math. You may just need a tutor who can fill in the blanks for you, and explain things that you’re not understanding, and at a pace you’re more comfortable with (with dialogue). Leverage any supplemental instruction or office hours that may be available, too. You can do it! I felt the way you do about math early in my university career for a number of different reasons, and now I have a math degree. Feel free to PM me.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:44 PM on May 4

I'm not completely sure I'm reading this right, but it sounds like you make a habit of studying alongside your sister? Like, enrolling in the same courses at the same place and at the same time? And you compare notes about how you're handling the work? I really, really think you have to stop doing that. I can't imagine anything more guaranteed to stress you out and make you feel bad about yourself.
I mean, it sounds like you have really entrenched feelings and beliefs about how you compare to your sister, and I think it would help you to work on those, but that's not easy, and making those comparisons isn't something you can just stop doing right away. But putting yourself in situations where it's impossible not to measure your success and abilities against hers is something you can just stop doing, and it sounds so painful that I really want you to.
posted by BlueNorther at 3:08 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]

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