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Heroic Fatigue

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"I broke my back, a drone flew into my face, I buried Aunt May, my wife and I... split up; but I handled it like a champ!"

"So many long hours spent around sick people, and I got numb to it, I stopped caring. Do you know how many hours I've spent awake at night, wishing my powers would just go away, or that some circumstance would come up where I'd make some excusable mistake where they would eventually forgive me, but where I couldn't visit the hospitals anymore?"
Panacea, Worm

This is a trope where The Hero, suffering from (or enjoying, depending on the mood of the story) Chronic Hero Syndrome, spends so much of his time and effort helping people, that it is physically and emotionally wearing him down to the breaking point. It can be even worse for him if he has something akin to super hearing or Telepathy, so he can always hear people calling for help, even when he's trying to get an hour or two of sleep before clocking in for his Stock Super Hero Day Job and chugging coffee for the entire day.

This may lead sooner or later to Passing the Torch and Retired Badass, or in more cynical works, a Heroic BSoD or a Despair Event Horizon, as the increasingly strung-out and hopeless hero just loses it because he can't save all those people who need him. This could of course apply to the villain, for many of the same reasons (well, presumably not the strain of constantly having to save people, but certainly the stresses of dealing with the superheroes and law enforcement would be an issue). For the physical counterpart, when the mind is willing but the body is failing, see Dented Iron and Feeling Their Age. If the hero snaps out of their fatigue and ends up saving the day, then it's Achilles in His Tent.


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    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: In the first episode of Season 10, an Evil Plan by Big M. involves the Supermen getting so many calls for help through their Superman hotline that it makes them too tired to fight monsters.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Batman has a tendency to go through this anytime he (temporarily) gains superpowers. Engineering this is Bane's goal in Knightfall, and it works. This is notable in that Batman never mentally tires of the job; in his case, it's always physical exhaustion.
  • Irredeemable: This happens to the Plutonian prior to his massive Face–Heel Turn. Part of his powerset is Super-Senses which he can't turn off, so he always hears everyone suffering everywhere. When he decides to go into space for a little while, where the vacuum will prevent him from hearing anything, his absence coincides with an alien virus breaking loose and causing the horrible deaths of hundreds of children. Dealing with the fallout from that mess on top of everything else is what finally sends him over the edge.
  • Spider-Man Spider-Man has gone through this more than once. He gets his powers as a teen, has no adult guidance, is trying to fight crime, help out Aunt May with bills, keep up schoolwork, and try to have something resembling a social life all while being the quintessential Hero with Bad Publicity.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW): Raphael eventually becomes overwhelmed with all the enemies and life-threatening situations he and his brothers constantly face. He wants the Turtles to stay out of Bishop's invasion of Burnow Island, and he wants to leave the city when Karai and Splinter go to war for control of the Foot clan.
  • Wonder Woman Vol. 2: By the close of the series the mental strain of being Athena's champion 24-7 and dealing with the trickery of the Olympians is getting to Wonder Woman and making her feel like she's losing herself. In response, she goes on a sabbatical during 52, and when she returns in Wonder Woman (2006), she tries acting as a government agent instead of a superhero for a while.

    Fan Works 
  • In Amazing Fantasy, Peter goes through many of the same tribulations as Peter B., losing his Aunt May, divorcing Mary Jane, and struggling to maintain financial solvency. He's fired from his dream job at Horizon Labs after making one too many mistakes in the workplace from too many all-nighters as a superhero. Only his Chronic Hero Syndrome and desire to provide child support for his daughter, Mayday, keep him from breaking down completely.
  • Child of the Storm has Harry steadily undergoing this as the sequel goes on, after one Trauma Conga Line too many — he'll always do the right thing, and his Chronic Hero Syndrome means that he'll always step up to fight, but the emotional exhaustion and severe traumas take a serious toll on his sanity.
  • one day at a time (Nyame): Jason Todd freely admits to his friend Barbara Gordon that by the time he had passed down the Batman mantle to his successor and adoptive son Terry McGinnis, he had been ready to quit for a while and was only holding out because Terry was too young. Having been a vigilante since he was twelve, and having lived on the streets in the worst neighborhood in Gotham before that, all while suffering an increasingly severe Trauma Conga Line that saw him die, Come Back Wrong, and lose most of his adoptive family before he was even thirty, Jason was sick of fighting and was ready to move on with his life. Once his lung cancer diagnosis came in, it was the kick he needed to finally let go so he could spend his last years in peace.
  • By the time Truth and Consequences starts, Ladybug and Chat Noir have been defending Paris from Hawkmoth for four years — that's four years in which Marinette couldn't hold down a job because she had to sneak off or miss work whenever an Akuma attacked, four years in which she couldn't leave the city for even a day lest there be an attack while she was gone, and as for college? Not outside of Paris, at least. The wear and tear got to be so severe she just wanted the whole thing to end... enough to cut a deal with Hawkmoth to do it. Contrast that with Adrien, who genuinely loves being Chat Noir more than anything else; even if Hawkmoth were defeated, he wouldn't stop being a hero, because it's the only thing he would ever want to do.
  • Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With The Light has Mary Jane Watson suffer this in spades. She's a Triple Shifter who has to Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World, keeping up her grades and making rent in addition to being a superhero with a Rogues Gallery as long as her arm, all while being the universe's Butt-Monkey on account of being Born Unlucky. Mary Jane constantly suffers from stress from trying to juggle everything, and her Chronic Hero Syndrome means she's wracked with guilt whenever she messes up.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Megamind, this is played with by Metro Man. It's not that he's tired of helping people, he just feels like he never had a real choice in the matter — being anything but a hero. He decides to retire by faking his own death and making a new career for himself, though it's implied that part of the reason why he does it is because he knows that Megamind (who doesn't really have a heart for real villainy himself) will step up to the plate himself.
  • Peter B. Parker from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a Spider-Man well into his late 30s who has to deal with, along with the pressures of being Spider-Man, losing Aunt May, divorcing Mary Jane, and more. He claims he's taking it like a champ, but the next scenes of him weeping in the shower and eating pizza in bed say otherwise.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Gwen Stacy's death and being forced to fight a good friend of his drives Peter to despair, and he stops being Spider-Man for five months.
  • Daredevil (2003): We see the hero going through his before-bed routine, getting everything put away in just the right place, climbing into the sound-proof casket (necessary due to his Super-Hearing), only for him to hear a woman somewhere nearby crying for help. He only lets out an exhausted sigh before slowly closing the casket to close out the sound.
  • As with the comics, this is a recurring theme in the Spider-Man Trilogy. It's most pronounced in Spider-Man 2, in which the stress of his chosen life causes his powers to start failing. By the beginning of Spider-Man 3, he seems to have found some balance and Mary Jane being in his life helps.

  • The protagonist of Beachwalker develops a bad case of this partway through the book as she tries to juggle treating her patient, surviving the aftermath of an earthquake, and a bullet wound all at the same time.
  • Deryni: Alaric Morgan is particularly prone to this in regard to his powers. He is apt to use his powers literally to the point of falling over at times, unless he is prevented from doing so. Kelson scolds him for it in The King's Justice, and Azim forbids him from helping with Derry after he and Dhugal have just spent themselves Healing Mátyás in King Kelson's Bride.
  • The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden goes through this all the time. Often he will forget to eat, or sleep when he's on a case and the world needs saving from supernatural doom. By the time he manages to solve everything he's usually so strung out that he often ends up just blacking out from exhaustion.
  • It is not uncommon for Heralds of Valdemar to experience this; however, because he's isolated by his power, keenly convinced that he can never allow himself to stop, and doesn't enjoy the close bond that other Heralds share, Herald-Mage Vanyel Ashkevron suffers worse than most. The middle book of the trilogy that stars him opens with him returning from a war front, after an entire year of simultaneously filling in for five other Herald-Mages, and it doesn't really get better for him on a permanent basis. He remains willing enough that he vows to, and does, continue to protect Valdemar after his death, but the third book gives him a few unsettling moments of No Sympathy for things that really should have provoked some.
    • Vanyel's spirit, and the two others that kept him company, reappears several hundred years later, Back for the Finale of Mage Winds and then in Mage Storms where he helps to prevent The End of the World as We Know It and finally vanishes into the afterlife, with another character noting that he and the other spirits were bound to the Forest of Sorrows for a lot longer than they'd anticipated. Various materials have said that Heralds and Companions face a choice upon dying - normal reincarnation as a regular person or a Herald-to-be, reincarnation as a Companion who retains memories but must remain in the background, or time in heaven with the option to choose again at any time - and that Vanyel and the others are going to spend a long time in heaven allowing themselves to rest.
  • Rule 34: Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh is realizing that not only has she been Reassigned to Antarctica, but that she has become burnt out by years of policework and just doesn't really care about her career anymore. She still cares about solving the case she's on, but much of that is simply following leads and passing information back and forth with the other cops. It's the big picture she no longer cares about.
  • World of the Five Gods: Poor Cazaril! To list all his tribulations would be a massive wall of text, but to sum up: in The Curse of Chalion, he rides 800 miles on horseback with a demon-infested tumor in his stomach. Before the novel takes place, he holds a fortress against an extended siege, and the starvation and disease that go along with that. Then he's sold into slavery aboard a galley, where he nearly dies to save Chekhov's Oarman. By the end of the novel, he has literally almost hero'ed himself to death.
  • In World War Z, the American President during the latter part of the zombie outbreak is described like this. Though he is, by all accounts, an incredible leader who kept his country from collapsing from depression and fatigue, it's mentioned that he suffered from extreme stress during his time in office and died soon after stepping down.
    "I have heard that hard times make great men. I do not know if that is true. But I do know that hard times will break great men."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel: As a human, Cordelia was not meant to shoulder the responsibility of Doyle's visions ("a big cosmic whoops", as Skip calls it). She secretly takes powerful painkillers and undergoes CAT scans that indicate the slow deterioration of her brain. Yet when presented with the opportunity to pass her visions onto someone else (the gallant Groosalugg, and later Angel in an alternate reality), Cordelia refuses, stating that the visions are a part of her and make her who she is.
  • In season 4 of Heroes, Peter wears himself to the breaking point trying to rescue and heal people in his job as a paramedic using his abilities.
  • In The Listener, this turns out to be a plot point. Toby will die if he continues to use his powers, and in the second season finale, he shuts off his telepathy.
  • In an episode of Lois & Clark, Lois is near the breaking point when she realizes that even with all of Superman's (borrowed) powers, she cannot save everyone.
  • Merlin (2008): Almost every character will at some point suffer this, but Merlin the most.
  • In the Smallville episode "Sneeze", Clark wears himself out trying to fix an entire ruined Metropolis.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • The main character of Contact experiences this after an ignoble defeat about 3/4s through the game. He also has a similarly bad reaction at the end, when he actually tries to fight the player through the screen after realizing he was manipulated.
  • Final Fantasy XIV sees the Warrior of Light going through this late in the story. Reading their journal entries makes it clear that the Warrior is sick and tired of doing things that other people could have done by themselves, even with the Warrior's Heroic Resolve. The fact that the Warrior does this all without any real thanks for it doesn't help their mental state.
    • During the Dark Knight job quests, they are tired of always being the hero, and they want to get away from it all so that they can do what they want to do rather than being everyone's Knight in Shining Armor. It turns out that while the player character does harbor such feelings, it is only their inner darkness/turmoil that's eating them alive and wanting to come out so they can tell everyone how they really feel about them. The NPC that is in charge of teaching the player character new skills turns out to be the player character's inner desires of wanting to abandon the role of hero and it manifests itself as a separate entity, attacking the player character for total dominance since they're still resisting their inner desires.
    • During the Save the Queen events, the Warrior can call themselves "Eorzea's errand boy/girl" over all of the things they're being asked to do without thanks for it.
    • When a character with a form of the echo that she can't turn off is forced to experience the Warrior's entire experience up to the present, she's dumbstruck and questions how the Warrior could possibly keep going after everything they've been through. Through all of their losses and betrayals, she cannot fathom how someone could not be broken by it all.
  • By Mass Effect 3, Commander Shepard really starts getting hit with this. Companions bring it up to him/her fairly often and by the end of the game, even before the final battle, s/he sounds completely exhausted and spent. Despite being only 32 years old, s/he admits to Kaidan to feeling like an Old Soldier due to how utterly spent s/he is and tells Garrus that s/he's pretty sure his/her fighting days are through when the war ends. The player is made to feel his/her exhaustion at the very end when after being injured in the dash to the teleportation beam, Shepard is reduced to a slow stagger for the remainder of the game.
  • Aki in Namco High has the problem of having not only superhero responsibilities, but also being possibly the biggest perfectionist workaholic in the history of the world, to ensure a state of permanent exhaustion and being late for things often enough to end up in detention.
  • Resident Evil: Several characters get hit with this as the series goes on:
    • By the time of his most recent incarnation in the canonical movie Resident Evil: Vendetta, Leon S. Kennedy has become so jaded that he refuses to fight any longer, feeling that no matter how hard he tries, the fighting never ends and people still die.
      Leon: I keep fighting... and fighting... and instead seeing the end of this shit, it keeps getting worse. Is this how my life's supposed to be? Fighting the living dead and the bastards that make them? What's the point of it all?
    • Chris Redfield isn't much better off, having been at it even longer than Leon. As early as Resident Evil 5, he's become somewhat jaded over the constant fighting against bioterrorism and wonders if it's even Worth It, and it only gets worse from there. His first scene in Resident Evil 6 features him as a depressed drunk after his entire squad is turned into B.O.W.s in Edonia, and in Resident Evil Village, after Miranda ambushes and kills Ethan, he bitterly reflects on how long he's been trying to clean up this mess while lighting up a Cigarette of Anxiety.
      Chris: Goddammit, when does it end?

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: When Ruby learns about her silver eyes, she tells Qrow that being special means she can help. She sneaks off to Haven with Jaune, Nora and Ren, and from there gradually begins taking command of the fight against Salem, especially after both Ozpin and Qrow enter a Heroic BSoD in Volume 6 once the Awful Truth about the Secret War comes to light. Ruby is a source of inspiration and hope to many people, even in the darkest of times, and Ozpin warns Oscar in Volume 5 that this is a terrible burden. In Volume 8, she begins visibly struggling with the scale of the threat Salem poses to the world, but it's in Volume 9 where the toll really starts catching up to her. When confronted by her past self verbalizing the difference between the reality of being a Huntress and the fairy tale vision of it that she used to have, Ruby is unable to refute it. When her past self then offers her the chance to be something else, she hesitates as if seriously considering it; the Curious Cat disrupts the vision before she can respond. Ultimately, Ruby breaks under the pressure and blows up at her friends, leading to her being Mind Raped by a vengeful Neo and effectively killing herself.

  • A superhero in Mandatory Roller Coaster routinely stands atop buildings in order to curse the city's inhabitants and feel sorry for himself.

    Web Original 
  • Sailor Nothing has a nasty case of this, to the point of her being constantly on the verge of a complete breakdown. Doesn't help that she gets splitting headaches every time a Yamiko is created, and goes out to fight even when she's badly injured.
    "I'm very tired."
  • In Worm, Panacea has the power of complete control over the biology of anything she touches. She uses this to simulate Healing Hands, and she can cure virtually any ailment or sickness. From the moment her powers triggered as a child, she spent all her free time visiting hospitals, because she couldn't live with herself if she didn't. As time went by, however, she got sick of seeing illness and sick people around her all the time, to the point that she was almost on the edge of a complete breakdown, so when Tattletale, Bonesaw, and Jack Slash administered successive Break Them by Talking speeches to her, she had a nervous breakdown and accidentally turned her sister into pure Body Horror.

    Western Animation 
  • Billy is a hero of epic repute in Adventure Time, but by the time our protagonists meet him, he's long been disillusioned to heroics, seeing the constant rise of new threats as a zero-sum conflict. He finds community upkeep a more effective pursuit and encourages our heroes to follow suit. After trying and failing to perform charitable acts, Finn goes back to heroics and proceeds to restore Billy's own faith by showing him the grateful old woman he saved.
  • Batman suffers an emotional breakdown like this in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "I Am the Night". He's finally pushed over the edge when Commissioner Gordon is shot during a stakeout he was late to while putting flowers on his parents' death site in Crime Alley.
  • Justice League: J'onn J'onzz temporarily quits the League in "To Another Shore" partly due to this, but mostly due to becoming estranged from humanity, which Wonder Woman points out. The next time he's seen is in the Grand Finale, "Destroyer"... with his human wife.
  • Fifty years with no progress in his quest has really broken Samurai Jack as of Season 5, to the point of seriously considering Seppuku to end it all.
  • Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!: By the final episodes of the series, Sprx expresses a great deal of stress and weak will as the team tries to stop Valina and Mandarin from resurrecting Skeleton King, since as he says so himself, despite all the team's efforts and sacrifices, Skeleton King is still a threat. This leaves him vulnerable to the Fire of Hate's corruption, which renders him Brainwashed and Crazy.

    Real Life 
  • Workers in fields where victims of disasters, trauma, and illness are frequently contacted with have a high rate of compassion fatigue, a kind of burnout where they have a harder and harder time being able to feel compassion for others' suffering because they've witnessed so much more of it than the average person from their line of work. Health care workers like nurses are a prime example — the US, for example, is experiencing an industry-wide shortage of nurses and other health care workers especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic at least partly because so many have quit and left the field entirely from being unable to give the compassion and care needed to patients and victims as a whole day in and day out. Others with high rates of it include lawyers (thus feeding into the Amoral Attorney trope somewhat as not caring can be a mental defense mechanism against career burnout), firefighters, police, teachers, clergy, and those in student affairs at schools up and down the grade levels.