Last week when I talked about safety in the backcountry, I had no idea I’d be struggling to find safety in my own city just a few days later. Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that I, along with Fred and George, were among the millions who got caught stupidly unprepared for a crippling weather situation in Atlanta earlier this week.

The events of Snowpocalypse were a much-needed reminder of the dangers of everyday life in urban environments, what we take for granted, and what we’ve become too reliant upon. More on the details of the saga later but for now I’d like to talk about the reality of survival situations whether they be urban or backcountry.

A lot of the questions I hear people asking in general is “Why didn’t you … (fill in the blank)?” or “Why couldn’t you have … (fill in the blank?)” These questions aren’t meant to be criticisms by most. They’re honest questions from perplexed people who are struggling to understand how and why things went so badly.

I think the important thing to keep in mind, whether it’s an individual survival situation or a collective one, is that when things are going downhill, the people involved don’t have hindsight. When you’re in it, you’re living moment-to-moment with infinite unknowns. Even as connected as I was to a lot of information while stranded in the middle of a large city, that information was broad and constantly changing. The information I had helped me make some decisions along the way but it didn’t address what I had to work with and deal with in my location at any given moment.

And then there’s the kicker… our wits.

When you’re faced with prolonged fatigue and stress, your judgement becomes veiled. When the enormity of the situation starts to creep into you thoughts, your decisions become impaired. Throw in all of the unknowns and it’s a recipe for disaster. If you can’t keep your wits about you, panic sets in and you’re done. You are no longer going to be able to help yourself.

And when it isn’t just an individual scenario, when it’s all around you and there’s little or no help to be had because everyone needs help… it’s overwhelming. There was a short time when it almost got me. Several things helped me get through those paralyzing moments: