Sometimes, you just need a walk to clear your head... but you end up losing your mind in the process.
In this trope, a burgeoning case of Sanity Slippage is expressed through obsessive pacing, walking, jogging, or in extreme cases, running. There's usually little to no real goal behind these little journeys, just an irrational desire to go somewhere regardless of the need to do literally anything else — and in the event that there is a tangible motive, it probably won't make much sense to anyone except the character.
For good measure, fugue states or even sleepwalking might be involved in such walks, the better to emphasize the lack of control a character has over their own unconscious self. It may even involve some kind of self-destructive or downright suicidal impulse.
- During Phase IV of Zenith Dr Michael Peyne is left as the last survivor of the Lloigors' conquest of Earth, condemned to live out the rest of his days stranded in their hellish capital city with an accelerating case of Merlin Sickness. With nothing else to do but wait to die, Peyne fills his days with meaningless obsessions: apart from writing an Apocalyptic Log that he knows that nobody will ever read, he also begins compulsively walking through the city, a nightmarish experience - but one that he can't bear to stop because it's all he has left. The younger he gets, the walks get progressively easier, but he draws progressively closer to losing his adult mind.
- Combined with Fatal Forced March in The Blair Witch Project; after getting lost, losing their map, being stalked by an unseen threat, and finding themselves Going in Circles, the three filmmakers quickly lose all hope of ever escaping the woods. However, despite pretty much hitting the Despair Event Horizon and later losing Josh as well, they continue walking and filming - not because they still plan on getting out alive, but because there's absolutely nothing else to do.
- Invoked in It Follows. The mysterious It that follows its victims wherever they go is constantly shown walking, and often in some state of disarray. However, the only defence against It is to keep moving, which leads to multiple scenes where people around Jay or Hugh think they're going insane due to their erratic habit of walking/running/driving - which makes sense to them, but only they can see what's pursuing them.
- Lake Mungo: June expresses her grief over the death of Alice by walking around the neighborhood late at night and wandering around other people's homes.
- Referenced in The Lighthouse: after a long period of Sanity Slippage suffered by both keepers, Wake remarks that he and the entire lighthouse might just be a figment of Winslow's imagination, even suggesting that Winslow is still in Canada, wandering aimlessly through the forest and talking to himself.
- During her breakdown in the third act of Ophelia, the titular character aimlessly wanders the castle grounds in despair, eventually ending up on the parapets where she stares out at the sky. Horatio finds her here and begs her to come away from the edge, apparently afraid she'll jump.
- The once mighty samurai warlord Hidetora in Ran, after Betrayal by Offspring, his followers massacred, and as final insult to injury can't even die in battle or commit seppuku because he has no weapon and is left to die in a burning castle, mentally shatters and wanders out from the inferno, not comprehending the armies in front and all around him. Stunned at the sight before them and at a loss at how to react, all the soldiers back away and stand aside, allowing Hidetora to drift away into the surrounding countryside, where he survives in madness until the climactic Downer Ending.
- In the backstory to Vertigo, Carlotta Valdes went mad after her baby was taken from her, and took to aimlessly wandering the streets of San Francisco in a confused daze, continuously asking passers-by if they'd seen her child. So, when Madeleine Elster begins suffering fugues in which she journeys to locations that were important to the long-dead Carlotta, it's assumed that she's either inherited her ancestor's madness or possessed by her spirit - either way worrying, given that Carlotta committed suicide. The big twist is that she's neither insane nor possessed, and isn't actually Madeleine at all: she's an actress hired by Gavin Elster to pose as his wife and feign insanity for the benefit of Elster's hired detective - just so it won't look strange when the real Madeleine turns up dead of an apparent suicide.
- In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Kayla uses her Compelling Voice to make Commander Stryker walk forever as a kind of Cruel Mercy. He walks for days and only stops once he is found by military personal.
- The Belgariad: In the prequel novel Polgara the Sorceress, Garion's grandmother Alara's mind begins to slip after her husband's death, causing her to forget that he had died and go looking for him in the woods. One such episode draws Polgara away from the house while the Evil Sorcerer Chamdar tries to murder the infant Garion, leading her to suspect that Chamdar Invoked the trope with magic.
- The Long Walk: The titular Walk is a grueling physical competition held by a despotic, alternate American government. Here's a hint at how grueling: by the end, there's only one survivor, and even after he wins he keeps walking towards a hallucinatory figure beckoning him to continue.
- Flashback sequences in The Magician King reveal that, after failing her last chance to get into Brakebills and despairingly abandoning her desire to learn magic, Julia Wicker took to obsessively walking across town, usually while remaining glued to her smartphone and instinctively dodging obstacles. Quite apart from being the first indication that her apparent recovery from depression wasn't so successful as it first seemed, her walking ultimately led her to a Hedge-Wizard safehouse, and from there, right into learning serious magic - resulting in even more Sanity Slippage.
- In Repeat, Brad Cohen grows increasingly depressed over the course of multiple lifetimes, and in the aftermath of a failed attempt to reunite with his wife, he takes a long, despairing and largely directionless walk down to Lake Michigan, during which he takes off all his clothes and screams at the sky. From here, Brad's sanity is in free-fall.
- One chapter of The Stand discusses the fact that a good chunk of the people who were immune to the apocalyptic superflu virus end up dying anyway due to "those ole emergency room blues" - in other words, bad luck. One, a man in his fifties, used to jog for the sake of his health prior to the plague; however, now that the plague has killed off all his friends and family, he's ultimately reduced to jogging obsessively around his neighbourhood - partly as a coping strategy but mostly because he has absolutely nothing else to do. By the end, his demons have gotten the better of him and he is now running in a blind, obsessive panic until at last his heart gives out after nearly six hours of non-stop running; to his immense relief, he drops dead on the spot.
- The Yellow Wallpaper: As the narrator goes mad from prolonged confinement in her bedroom, she starts circling the room over and over, obsessively following the pattern in her wallpaper in the belief that something is hiding within it.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Horror Of Fang Rock," lighthouse keeper Reuben encounters something nasty downstairs and can only wander aimlessly back up the stairs in shell-shocked silence, unable to make eye contact with anyone or speak beyond a request to be left alone. Vince, having heard the stories of the Beast of Fang Rock and the three victims it left in the wake of its last appearance - two dead and one insane - assumes that the pattern is repeating with Reuben being driven insane by the beast. It's ultimately subverted when it turns out that this isn't Reuben at all: it's the alien infiltrating the lighthouse, having killed the real Reuben and assumed his appearance; the wandering and apparent madness is due to the fact that it doesn't know how to properly impersonate human beings just yet.
- Hannibal features Will Graham taking unusual journeys on foot as his sanity slowly unravels. In one of his therapy sessions with Hannibal, he mentions that he's in the habit of leaving his house in the middle of the night then turning back so he can see the house from a distance, claiming that it's the only way he can feel safe. Then he finds himself sleepwalking down the road some distance from his home. Then he begins suffering wide-awake fugue states and waking up in completely different parts of the country. Part of this is due to encephalitis, but it's also due to him being covertly Mind Raped by Hannibal.
- In The Haunting of Bly Manor, it's revealed that one of the former owners of the eponymous manor - an Elizabethan aristocrat by the name of Viola Lloyd - had the habit of obsessively walking about the house in times of stress. Initially only doing this during periods of insomnia, she continued her walking habit during her period of terminal illness, and even after her death: having found herself trapped in a dream of her bedroom, Viola would continuously wake up, walk to the window, and return to bed, slipping further and further into Sanity Slippage with every iteration. After ending up trapped on the manor grounds by her own despair and stubbornness, Viola's ghost would continuously emerge from the lake, wander the grounds, remember that her family and loved ones were all gone, lose a bit more of her mind, then return to the lake to sleep and forget - set to do it all over again another night; worse still, she could end up killing anyone straying into her path on the way. By the end of the series, Viola has been rendered down into the Lady In The Lake, an insane, faceless amnesiac wraith defined exclusively by her meaningless circuit of the grounds.
- The Haunting of Hill House (2018):
- The episode "The Twin Thing" features Luke being put through a Trauma Conga Line that features him being left homeless, betrayed and robbed by his only friend, beaten up by a gang of thugs, and mugged for his jacket and shoes. Worse still, he's experiencing phantom withdrawal symptoms that are actually due to him picking up on Nell's death via Twin Telepathy and being actively haunted by the Bowler Hat ghost. Teetering on the edge of the Despair Event Horizon, all he can do is pace aimlessly back and forth through the streets, reciting his Survival Mantra as he tries to ignore the ghost pursuing him.
- Flashbacks reveal that one of the earliest signs that the House was starting to get to Olivia was her increasingly confused habit of wandering the building - most notably displayed in "Two Storms," when she abruptly strayed away from trying to find Nell and began drifting aimlessly through the corridors, often taking shortcuts through Alien Geometries before Hugh could catch up with her.
- The Leftovers:
- Running is clearly a hobby for Kevin both pre- and post-Departure, but after Laurie leaves him, and even later, during his strange experiences in Miracle, Texas, he becomes more fanatical. He also walks in the morning and night, including walking around and losing his memory of where he was on the night Evie and her friends went missing, and eventually waking up near her deserted car. Season 2 "resolves" this by having Nora handcuff him to her while he sleeps so he can't wander off.
- Kevin Snr. follows "voices" that tell him where to go and what to do. He keeps insisting that they have a grander vision, although he isn't sure what it is, although it still looks like this trope to everyone else.
- Played for laughs in The Thick of It: after a harrowing first-time bollocking from Malcolm Tucker, Opposition aide Phil Smith wanders off in a traumatized daze and, according to a deleted scene, actually left the building altogether; he was so terrified that he didn't stop walking until he reached Greenwich - a good ten kilometres away!
- Halsey's "Control" is narrated by a manic, possibly mentally ill person who describes walking around their house all night long.
I paced around for hours on empty
I jumped at the slightest of sounds
And I couldn't stand the person in front of me
I turned all the mirrors around
- In "Ocean Song" by Daughters, the protagonist is overcome by some inexplicable fear of his own home and begins running in blind panic towards the ocean.
- Some of the Medieval/Early Modern "mad songs" invoke this trope, such as "Mad Maudlin's Search":
For to see Mad Tom of Bedlam,
Ten thousand miles I've traveled.
Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes,
For to save her shoes from gravel
- In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth sleepwalks and walks around trying to clean up "blood" in her dream, feeling guilty about the murders that have taken place.
- In Hamilton, Alexander does this after the death of his son; in the song "It's Quiet Uptown", he is described as "walking by himself, talking to himself", even that "he walks the length of the city." He gradually recovers once he and his wife reconcile, thankfully.
- Assassin's Creed features numerous madmen wandering the streets, unable to do much more than pace around and gibber to themselves, clutching their heads in pain. Unfortunately, getting too close to them will result in Altair getting violently shoved in the opposite direction, potentially disrupting attempts at stealth. Worse still, after you kill Garnier de Naplouse and shut down his lab, a lot more madmen can be found on the streets.
- In Battlefield 1, it's possible to see soldiers wandering around No Man's Land in a complete daze as gunfire erupts around them. The worst part? This is based on something that actually happens in war; see Real Life below.
- In Outlast, one of the many patients loose in Mount Massive Asylum does nothing but wander back and forth across his cellblock, repeatedly bashing his head against one of the columns (which can be easily recognized by the distinctive bloodstain the guy's left on it by now). On the upside, at least he doesn't hurt anyone.
- The Secret World:
- In the Halloween mission "Spooky Stories Of Solomon Island," Eleanor Franklin shares the story of the Lantern Man of the Moon Bog, the ghost of a young man mourning the death of his fiancée. According to the story, the suitor was last seen wandering aimlessly off into the bog - and just to make it clear that he wasn't in his right mind, the story also mentions that he left his eyeballs, tongue and the skin of his face lying on his bedroom floor.
- The Buzzing reveals that the Draug were first created when Norsemen returning from the Darkness War happened to stray into an Eldritch Location hidden deep in the Atlantic, and eventually arrived home infected with a unique strain of the Filth. Before long, they succumbed to madness like other Filth infectees, and began to obsessively wander: outsiders would find the villages of such veterans abandoned with no trace of their inhabitants except for orderly rows of footprints leading into the sea.
- Silent Hills: Possibly invoked in "P.T.", where the POV character has to walk down the endlessly-looping hallway in suburban household where an entire family was murdered by the father and it's heavily implied that the POV character is actually the murderer, especially given that one of the puzzles involves you finishing a line of graffiti reading "there's a monster inside of me." Given that the game was cancelled, the true meaning of the place is never established, though at least one interpretation involves the main character being a prisoner of his own insanity.
- Exaggerated in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, in which Manfred von Karma claims to have wandered the courthouse for hours in a daze after suffering a single penalty to his perfect track record. He then found an unconscious Gregory Edgeworth, the one who exposed his forgery in the first place, and murdered him right then and there in his vulnerable state.
- SCP Foundation: SCP-7955 suffers from dementia that increases in severity as his shapeshifting abilities increase. As such, he's very prone to losing his way whenever he tries to break out of containment. In one case, after getting separated from one of his minders during an escorted test of his powers in the site laboratories, he's found wandering aimlessly through the corridors in a bewildered daze... and he's naked, having either shrunk out of his clothes or removed them of his own accord.
- In one Danny Gonzalez video, he pokes fun at a meme that asks people to share the image if they enjoy sauerkraut. In-character as the person who made the meme, he wanders around his office aimlessly, desperately asking if anyone else, anyone at all, eats sauerkraut.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy: In "Cleanliness is Next to Edness", Edd's mind gradually deteriorates as he gets progressively filthier and is unable to clean himself. After falling into a pile of manure, he aimlessly wanders through the cul-de-sac, tirelessly uttering the word "shower", until he finally loses his grip on reality and rolls around in the garbage.
- The Legend of Korra: The Fog of Lost Souls in the Spirit World is a large fog that has settled over a crater. It drives people who wind up in the Spirit World insane, indicated by how they walk around aimlessly muttering vaguely about their mortal lives.
- Exploited by mobster Vincent "the Chin" Gigante: after realizing that he was in danger of being indicted, he took to feigning insanity by — among other things — wandering aimlessly around Greenwich Village in his bathrobe and slippers, mumbling gibberish. The ploy actually worked for thirty years, up until other mobsters began testifying that the whole thing was a hoax, and even Gigante confessed in court that he'd been faking it all along.
- Dromomania is a psychological condition characterized by the uncontrollable urge to walk and wander; recently, it's been diagnosed as a potential side-effect of other disorders, including Alzheimer's Disease.
- During World Wars One and Two, a common symptom of "shell shock"—now more accurately known as combat stress reaction—would be soldiers suddenly dropping their weapons and beginning to wander directly onto the battlefield, despite being surrounded by artillery fire. In some cases, the soldiers were Driven to Suicide, but in others, their minds simply couldn't bear the intense pressure of the fighting any longer, and they completely disconnected from reality.
- No less then Heinrich Himmler, according to some reports, was found doing this, suffering damage from a Soviet missile and trying to cross a checkpoint. He did not succeed and committed suicide when captured.
- Many people suffering from anxiety disorders will compulsively pace back and forth for hours on end, as their racing thoughts make it impossible to sit down and relax.
- In his autobiography Humble Pie, Gordon Ramsay relates how during the first British version of Hell's Kitchen, which he was committed to at the same time as he was establishing his first solo restaurant in London, the pressures of dealing with idiots note resulted in his not bothering to change into day clothes at the end of a shift and walking the five or six miles from work to home, his head full of concerns and wondering how soon he could be done with the TV commitment.
- Sometimes people who suffer grievous injuries that don't immediately kill them suffer from shock and walk around aimlessly for however long they have left. This is because the brain shuts out the (likely intense) pain from the injury, and that combined with the likely traumatic experience they just suffered cause some people to act like they are not even injured and carry on trying to go somewhere else. There are stories of Hiroshima survivors suffering severe radiation burns from the bomb still getting up and searching around for their families or other people, only to eventually succumb to their injuries and the radiation poisoning.
- Several instances of Polar Madness have featured the unfortunate victims leaving their bases and wandering off on foot. In one case, the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897 became trapped in the ice for so long that one crewmember simply left the ship, claiming that he was "returning to Belgium", and was never seen again. Some modern scholars have even interpreted the fate of Captain Oates in the Terra Nova Expedition as being due not to a Heroic Sacrifice, but due to mental illness that drove him to walk into a blizzard in a state of confusion.