Zen and the art of Screwdrivers

My red self-care stress ball
My self-care stress ball
So about a week ago, my amazing boyfriend came over to spend the weekend before my exams started with me, and through a lot of twists and turns involving a trip to the Natural History Museum's temporary butterfly house (it's quite small compared to places like the old London Butterfly House, one of my childhood haunts that sadly got demolished because the Duke of Northumberland wanted to build a hotel complex on the land, but has quite a few pretty species like swallowtails, glasswing butterflies, Atlas moths - don't expect to see them often, though - and my favourite of all, Blue Morphos; it's £4.50 for an adult ticket so make up your own mind and try not to come when it's too crowded), ended up watching Hubble 3D at the Science Museum because he likes space and I like space and we both know that we both like space. And yes, I get childishly excited about looking out beyond Earth, and indeed trying to look at the structure of our observable universe...I could rant for ages about the questions we've yet to answer, but this isn't actually a blog about science so I'll get vaguely on topic.

Anyway, at one point in the film an astronaut has to remove a circuit board from Hubble. Boring, right? Well, maybe on Earth, but this quite a different situation...First of all, he doesn't have the Earth's gravity to stabilise him, so he's floating around in a small, cramped space full of delicate equipment. If any of that breaks or gets even slightly shoved around, Hubble is just an expensive piece of junk. (Imagine trying to remove this circuit board underwater.) Secondly, he's wearing a spacesuit that has about 11 layers - so imagine trying to remove a circuit board underwater wearing incredibly thick gloves. Even light gloves, or indeed having anything on my hands, significantly reduces my ability to do fine work, so this is a pretty incredible feat. Lastly, and most importantly, this circuit board is sharp and could tear the astronaut's gloves, sucking the oxygen out of the suit and killing him.

So yes, this might be a boring repair job...but it's one that's also potentially lethal. I didn't even mention that the circuit board was one of very few bits of Hubble not designed to be repairable or removable in space, or that if you move something in space (i.e. apply a resultant force to it) it will then keep on accelerating until other forces act on it. To put it more simply, move things very gently in space otherwise they will end up accelerating in directions you really didn't want them to accelerate.

In this astronaut's commentary for the film, he said that he was taking a Zen approach to removing each of the 32 tiny screws holding the circuit board in place, that he only concentrated on the screw he was taking out at the moment; he thought neither of the screws that would have to be taken out later nor the ones he had already taken out.

As wanky as it sounds, that's been pretty helpful in my exams. I have 10 exams this summer, 4 of which are already over and done with. That's not much for an AS student, I guess - certainly I had more exams last year - but this year in addition to being depressed (chronically and clinically so, not just me being low and pretending I have a potentially deadly illness), I've also at times been so anxious I can't even do basic tasks - something that has never happened to me before. Understandably, that anxiety can be a bit of a problem when it comes to sitting exams - or even being able to sit them in the first place. (I have been known to miss lessons because I was too anxious to even move. It's not something I'm especially proud of.)

And so I have to take care of myself and try and figure out ways to calm myself down before I have a full-blown anxiety attack, two things I don't think I'm very good at. Still, I haven't had a single anxiety attack while taking an exam so far, which I guess is something to be proud of considering how frequent they've become.

One of the ways in which I calm myself down is my infamous red stress ball, which I've been taking into every exam and mock since I got it, and it really does help to regulate my breathing. Another, of course, is the thing I devoted about a paragraph to: Zen and the art of screwdrivers, except in this case I'm not taking out screws, I'm sitting exams.

It doesn't matter how many exams I've already sat, or how many exams I have left to sit (although crossing out the exams I've done on my exam timetable feels pretty good). It doesn't even matter whether I feel absolutely terrible later, because later hasn't happened yet. What matters is that I am sitting this exam now and goddammit, I am going to get through it.

And do you know what?

Thinking about things that way helps.

It really does.