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Thought Triage

March 3rd, 2022

I remember my first real mock trial tournament in my senior year of highschool, mostly because of the week leading up to it. It had been a really rough one. I remember dealing with college anxiety (it was October and EDs were due in a week), with the stress of the work for the tournament and feeling underprepared, and—perhaps most of all—with a really upsetting person-problem that felt like it was taking away all of my energy.

So by Friday evening, I was overwhelmed and feeling my head was being squeezed by a vice. It was surging in my head—all the thoughts distracting me and sending me spiraling—I could feel the inertia as I tried to move them away. I imagine it almost like trying to push a steel cargo container across a parking lot. So much energy and work for just a few inches. And even if I purged the thought and push the container away, it'd come back a few minutes later. My essays are bad and I think I want to rewrite all of them. What if the witness just argues with me on this cross question and I look like an idiot? Am I about to lose a friend because of my silly neurotic nonsense?

All I needed to be thinking about was getting mentally prepared for this competition. But here's the thing: this isn't like when you see a tiger in the jungle and it's time to run away. In that case, our bodies know to forget everything else because it truly is a matter of life or death. For this, I needed to trick my body and my mind into thinking this mock competition was everything—was the tiger in the jungle. But instead, the bigger, realer problems of college and people made that impossible.

I eventually just put on a thin fleece and walked out the door in the pouring rain. Around the block I went, feeling the wet seep into my clothes and my hair flatten in damp strands against my forehead. It was dark, there weren't any cars on the roads. And I can't remember what I thought about on that walk. Can't remember what it felt like to come back. But I think, if I really strain my memory, I can recall the slightest feeling of relief. Like somehow, this big metal gate had just shut behind me and all of my random shit that I had to deal with was on the other side, save just one target: the competition.

That next morning I woke up before my alarm—I always do that before mock rounds. And maybe it was just chemical: adrenaline surging, caffeine working its way through my system as I sat down in front of my laptop with (embarrassingly) an energy drink in hand (it was really early in the morning, ok?). But I think before that point, I had already mustered the reserves to put everything else in storage. Thought triage: when it's red alert and you need to be in the zone, you find a way to get the important, even urgent-seeming extraneous stuff out of the way.

Having to thought triage before something big—a competition, when a friend is having a crisis and you need to drop everything to help, when you're SARing someone in the woods, an essay that's due in 12 hours—I'm not exaggerating when I say it might very well be my favorite part of life. It is a reminder that I am adaptable and my world is more than some silly little domestic routine.