The Swiss Cheese Defense and why Depression is Dangerous.

2016 went out with an unexpected yet expected crash that has left me shaking my head at my actions and lack of awareness in myself as well as my selfishness to those around me. I started writing this post as a quick rundown of my winter maintenance and repairs but has morphed into another beast entirely. Maybe I should just select all and hit delete, but maybe it’s good if I get it out there and off my chest. The first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem after all.

2016 saw me pushing the bike harder and harder with an equal and opposite reduction in my fear of bodily harm and self preservation. I was riding as if I had something to prove, or someone to prove it to. Subconsciously, I was completely aware that what I was doing was irresponsible and dangerous. Ever increasing speed on singletrack, harder lines over rough terrain and following the old adage, ‘when in doubt, throttle out’ above all else.

I spoke at length about this to my good friend and riding partner, Adam, with whom I have covered thousands of kilometres. There’s something intimate about riding with the same person at length that allows you to envision a relatively predictable riding style throughout a season. When you break free from that mold it’s as visible as if you had suddenly decided to get off the bike and start running instead. He knew something was up. My typically casual riding pace moved into recklessness. He called me on it as any good friend should but I couldn’t see past the mental roadblocks that were put up against me. He told me he was afraid I was going to crash at some point. While I agreed subconsciously and admitted as much to him, I also didn’t much care. Uh, oh.

Have you heard of the Swiss cheese effect? The premise is simple:

Consider the holes in slices of Swiss cheese to be opportunities for a process to fail, and each of the slices as “defensive layers” in the process. An error may allow a problem to pass through a hole in one layer, but in the next layer the holes are in different places, and the problem should be caught. Each layer is a defense against potential error impacting the outcome.

For a catastrophic error to occur, the holes need to align for each step in the process allowing all defenses to be defeated which resulting in an accident.

The holes in my cheese lined up to failure.

First, I was riding a trail I’ve ridden a hundred times in the past which I expected to be the same as it always was. I didn’t anticipate the trail conditions would change. Second, I wasn’t wearing my MX gear. I was wearing my work uniform and didn’t want to store my riding gear as I was working out of a building I don’t normally work in. Lastly, what I now recognize to be the biggest failure of them all and one that took a long time to admit to myself. I was, and still am, dealing with depression. Because of this I was riding without care of injuring myself, or what its impact would be on those around me.

I remember vividly my thought process leading up to the crash. As I watched the speedometer needle climb, the voice in my head was telling me to slow down but against instinct I rolled on the throttle and went even faster. As I came into a corner, the turn was no longer as expected due to ATV traffic earlier in the day. I mashed on the rear binders but it wasn’t enough to stop me going into the trees so I pulled the front as well. Wet, disturbed soil and too much speed into a turn is a recipe for disaster when you couple it with riding beyond your ability. I kept it out of the trees but still put the bike down. Hard and fast.

While laying next to the bike contemplating the pain in my leg, life and all things in between I realized I was alone. I was in an area nobody knew I was in, without cell service,  the victim of my own undoing. After some time I managed to right myself. The blinding white in my head subsided and the immense pain in my leg became much more apparent. My helmet had a nice new scrape down the side and my jacket was torn.

The bike was mostly okay. After some strategic lifting to right the KLR and some limited hobbling to tweak the front tire back into line with the rest of the bike I hit the starter and the old girl roared back to life despite my best attempts to sabotage our relationship. I very gingerly rode the remaining 6 km out to the main road, leg dangling all the way.

I ended up fracturing my ankle and have spent the last 6 months recovering from my poor decisions. It’s likely I will never regain the full range of motion I once had in my foot. My highland dancing career took a tragic turn before it ever began.

Depression is no joke. It takes what reasonable faculties you once had and twists them into this dark, uncaring monster that has only your demise as its one interest. Depression can twist you up so much that you risk everything you love. Your family, friends, career, hobbies and mobility. It robs you of independence.

I’m now working on fixing myself the same way I fix my KLR, one piece at a time.

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