How many of you here are fans of How I Met Your Mother?
For those of you who are, you might remember an episode in Season 8 – specifically Episode 11 – The Final Page – where Ted Mosby was so worked up over his old architecture professor who had told him that Ted will never be an architect. Ted was very upset that said professor declined to attend a momentous ceremony at the opening of a building that he had designed. He decided to confront his professor and rub it in his face that he, Ted, is now an accomplished architect. This episode brought up the concept of the “pit guy” in which there is someone in your life that you’ve obsessed over for so long that you’d throw them into a pit like in the fashion of Silence of the Lambs. In Ted’s case, his “pit guy” was Professor Vinnick, the professor who had invalidated him.
When I saw this episode a year or so ago, I was stunned. It resonated with me. It resonated with me so much that I realized how much I related to Ted. I realized that I had put a bunch of people into a pit and had locked them away there (except in my case, it’s a basement with bars like a prison).
The reason I even bring this up in this post is because after years of trying to find her, I have finally found my high school math teacher on Facebook. It was all a coincidence too. I was just scrolling through my feed on my phone when suddenly the “People You May Know” section popped up and there she was. My high school math teacher. Someone I have thought about consciously and unconsciously for the last 10 years.
I clicked on her profile and sent her a message asking her if she was indeed the teacher that I had been looking for for so long. She responded almost immediately and yes! She was the teacher!
At that point, I had thought to myself, “Good! Now I can show her just how accomplished I am now with my math skills! She was wrong to have said all those things about me and to tell me that I was lazy and hopeless! I’ll show her!!!”
I was so excited to tell her that she was wrong. That I was misunderstood since no one noticed that I had ADHD and was struggling to keep up with school. That I was not lazy or hopeless. That I received an A+ for Algebra and Trigonometry 1, I’m currently receiving A’s for my quizzes and tests in Algebra and Trigonometry 2, I’m now a registered tutor who is available to teach Algebra and I’m on my way to earning a Minor in Mathematical Science (yes, that’s my goal).
After making sure she remembered who I was, I went ahead and told her of my achievements in Math. It didn’t take long for her to respond with “Wow – :thumbs up: :thumbs up: :thumbs up:” She told me that I no longer have a phobia for math and that I must have had a really good teacher to get me out of that rut. She was genuinely happy for me and we spent the rest of the conversation catching up as she was very interested to know more of what I’ve been up to.
I even told her of my ADHD diagnosis and how that had contributed to my inability to understand her when she taught me math. She then confessed that she often feels helpless to assist students like me – the ones who are clearly smart but have no motivation or interest to continue. It hit me then that I had never considered how she must have felt about my failures in math and all the bad grades I got. I had never considered that she felt bad for me and felt bad that she couldn’t help me.
I had always thought of her as the harsh teacher – the one who was strict with grading, the one who expected a lot from her students, the one who had put me down and said some mean things. I still remember the time that she had scolded me outside of the classroom and that incident had brought me to my tears. I still remember how I could never face her after that and how fearful I was of her. Suffice to say, I didn’t have many positive memories of her. I mean, I like her enough to want to keep in touch. I respect her tremendously as I had always thought that she was a strong woman with amazing math skills.
After our short conversation, I realized that she had tried her very best to help me and her harsh words to my young ears had though been perceived negatively by me were actually words from a frustrated person who was well meaning but perhaps lacked the necessary vocabulary. After all, we were both Chinese and in our culture, we often don’t praise our young.
I had been so excited to contact her to tell her of my achievements and to rub it in her face – essentially to inform her of how wrong she was of me. Instead, I came face to face with the moment in the episode of How I Met Your Mother where Ted Mosby realized that in the end, the person you threw into the pit was really yourself all along. I had taken all of my math teacher’s negative words, internalized them, convinced myself that I was bad at math and will never amount to anything in life and had replayed negative scenes in my head over and over until all these thoughts became facts of my life. So for the next 10 years, I lived my life with the strong feeling that I was bad at math and was a hopeless failure.
I had effectively put myself into the pit of my mind to live in hopelessness and despair, to fumble in the darkness and to suffer in lonely silence. I realize that now. I realize now why that episode had resonated with me so much. It’s because at that point in time, I realized that I had put myself in a pit and I think it took an entire year and tonight’s conversation with my ex-high school math teacher to hit home.
I had expected fanfare and a tearful realization from my high school teacher that she had wronged me. I had expected to be euphoric like a boxer who had just given a knock-out punch and is now dancing around the ring like the winner deserves to. I had expected to feel good to tell my teacher that I am succeeding in math the way she had never expected me to. I had expected a sense of peace.
I don’t. Instead, I realize now just how much pain I’ve put myself through. And like Ted Mosby said, there is only one person who can let me out of the pit. And that person is me.
Perhaps now I can stop beating myself up and feeling guilty at every single thing. Perhaps now I can learn to face my shame, my anger, my frustrations, my despair…
At least one of the traumas in my life has now found its closure. Though I didn’t receive any fanfare or overwhelming sense of peace, it did bring about this epiphany which I am truly thankful for.