Frankly Told: Hero’s Fatigue

Frankhie Muthumbi
5 min readMay 1, 2024

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Photo by Frankhie Muthumbi

The rain pelted down on the roof and its steady pitter-patter gave the space a calming presence. The room was lit up by a single halogen lamp that flickered every so often throwing the little gathering into split-second darkness every few minutes.

With the number of meetings that had passed, the silence they sat in had become a comfort. A reminder of the company and a less-than-ideal goal for their minds when they left that place. Many did, only to return slightly worse than they left. Still, the space felt like a relief to each one sitting on those plastic bucket chairs in a circle.

“Okay,” the moderator spoke in a quiet and guiding voice. “Would anyone like to say something before we continue?”

The group looked around at each other. Some still in their work clothes on that after-work Friday others dressed down in nothing by sweatpants and hoodies to beat the cold. Their eyes spoke more than their mouths in those moments. The moderator nodded, pressing her lips together. Taking a deep breath, she parted them as if a thought had formulated and she wanted to begin speaking into the last section of the session before she was interrupted by a grizzly voice.

“I have-" he cleared his throat. “I have a question and it may seem a little outside kawaida but I think ina-matter. Si hiyo ni sawa?”

The moderator nodded slowly and he readjusted himself, pulling at his jacket that tugged with it, a reflective outercoat. He shifted the hat from his right knee onto his left knee. The shiny badge on its front caught the light a little and dazzled his eyes a bit.

“I’m just a few meetings into this,” he started. “Lakini, kila time … every time I am here, you are here smiling at us, making jokes and listening to our stories. I don’t know how long you have been doing this but for sure najua umekaa.”

“If it is not out of line,” he looked at the rest as if seeking permission. “My question is, how are you for real for real?”

“Ah,” the moderator nodded again and scoffed. “I thought this was going to head in a totally different direction.”

She paused and thought about the question intentionally before she spoke.

“I’m in a steady cycle of ups and downs,” she answered. “Then again, everyone is. That notwithstanding, I’m feeling particularly tired today and I have been for a few weeks now. I am not sure if it is shining through but I think that is one of the bigger feelings I am having right now. I feel okay though. At least I get to laugh with you old men and women here.”

She shot him a half smile. He looked at her not breaking eye contact; unmoved. Her smile faded and she blinked away her gaze to the rest of the group before it was back to him. His eyes told the story of his age and experience. She felt like a daughter to the man yet she would have been about the same age as him.

“To answer your curiosity, I have done this for the past fifteen — fifteen? — Yes, fifteen years.” She spoke to his unresponsiveness. “However, I was where you are sitting for about 5 years prior to that. My relationship with this whole dynamic has been up and down. I think it is what has given me the ability to listen in to these stories as many times as necessary.”

“How do you cope?” One of the ladies in the group asked.

She looked at her and exhaled sharply, realizing she had not for a long time thought to tell her story. As the epiphany hit her, out of the corner of her eye, she saw him lean back into his chair as if in relief that the conversation kept rolling.

“How do I cope?” she repeated. “I don’t know. It just got easier to handle the emotions of the stories the more I did it. It started with this energy of wanting to hear new stories and compare them to mine to get a better understanding of myself. Selfish, I know. I’d be amiss if I didn’t say that for sure it is what a lot of you may have gotten from these sessions for yourselves.”

Some nodded and punctuated the air with “mmmh”s.

“Over time, I started finding that I was carrying these stories home with me,” she clenched and unclenched her hands. “The thing was that I would keep thinking of every story and trying to resolve whatever emotions were in those times for that person. It was not even my place but I realised it was weighing heavy on my heart. I started hating coming here because I always left with someone’s story. Someone’s conflict with family and friends. Someone’s hatred and anger at themselves.”

“The thing about a weight that is not yours to carry,” she continued. “It starts to become yours the longer you hold on to it. I thought I was helping them whenever I would give my thoughts and opinions when they asked and in truth I was. I saw when they did those things, their lives seemed to turn. Though, looking back at myself, I couldn’t seem to apply the same to my life that had assimilated their situations.”

“You can’t heal your illness with someone else's medicine,” an older gentleman spoke up.

“Exactly right,” she said. “Wait when did this become my session?”

“Just continue talking,” the man who asked the question pushed.

“Alright,” she huffed. “When I look at each and every one of you here, I see my uncles, aunts, sisters and brothers. I’m not as old as I sound. Might even be someone’s granddaughter here. Sometimes I can’t help but relive my own story with this thing. I’m 20 years sober today, actually. About 3 years removed from hero’s fatigue.”

“What’s that?” one of the older men asked.

“Hero’s fatigue,” she repeated. “Another sobriety coin I had to seek out to be able to help you all find your own way out without drowning myself like I almost did. I say almost but I actually drowned.”

“So to answer your question,” she turned back to the epicentre of the discussion. “I’m doing better.”

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Frankhie Muthumbi

Perfectly Imperfect || Human, Alexithymiac Poet, Writer, Musician