When I was at school, the mathematics classes were always a nightmare to me. I was gifted in foreign languages and writing essays for my Finnish classes, so I think I was not totally dumb, but maths were like an alien, abstract language to me which I could not comprehend at all. It caused me heavy anxiety and frustration, and many years on, I still have nightmares about my maths classes where the recurring theme is that I'm facing some totally incomprehensible test that I have no hope of passing. So, at some point in my teens I gave up altogether trying to understand maths, and always copied my maths homework just before lessons from my classmates.
Gladly I didn't have to take maths with my lukio (Finnish equivalent to high school) end exams, since I could compensate it instead with Finnish, English, Swedish and German (which I have mostly forgotten ever since, tut mir leid), and also history, so not having to worry about mathematics, I managed those end exams with flying colours, with a combined grade of laudatur as result (but look what good it did to me, since I eventually became just a university drop-out, though that's a different story...)
Anyway, I'm still mostly at loss with everything that concerns numbers. I can do simple adding and sums, but never ever ask me anything about algebra, derivation, equations or things like that unless you want to see me turn into a complete nervous wreck.
I found some consolation now when I read that British psychologists have found out that the inability to understand mathematics may be caused by something else than actually lacking mathematical skills. They have recently diagnosed a condition called "Maths Anxiety", which may prevent otherwise intelligent people to manage even the simplest mathematical equations.
"It appears that maths anxiety affects performance on arithmetical problems because anxious intrusive thoughts compete for limited memory resources and this may disrupt the calculation processes involved in arithmetic problem solving", says Dr. Sheila Ford of the Staffordshire University.
Dr. Ford's group is now studying different relaxation techniques with which these problems could be prevented. They are also researching in which specific age this maths anxiety could possibly originate. Dr. Ford says that these symptoms have been found out with children as young as ten years old, adding that these might be caused by the first experiences with maths teachers. -- Well, that would exactly fit in with my personal experiences with educational system...
The British Psychological Society
Saga Health News