The Big-Bad-Gray Feeling

The Big-Bad-Gray Feeling

Do you ever ask yourself, “what really matters in this world”? I often do. It actually drives me crazy how often I’m asking it. Sometimes when I ask myself that question,I receive strong, bold answers. I don’t know where the answers come from; my own mind, the ether, god, or a combo of all, or maybe somewhere completely different. Sometimes the answers aren't so loud, or the doubts that come after the answer, muddle and confuse my sense of it all. It’s on days where I ask the question and am met with the latter answer (or lack thereof), that living life can be a wee bit hard to manage. I used to have days where I couldn’t come to any sense of clarity around this big question of “what matters?” There were days that I felt such pain under the weight of my own free will, I would just writhe, and do what I could to try to enjoy my day. In this world that does everything it can to snatch your attention out from under your feet, getting sucked into the shimmer of social media would only make me feel more scattered. 

On the hardest days, I usually hauled myself out of bed with the help of some mysterious boost of energy/anxious drive, and did what I could to move through it. Yet saying I moved “through” it is a bit inaccurate, it felt more like I moved with it; a dull, gray, heavy feeling of numbness mixed with grief, clinging onto my back for dear life. Trying to rid myself of it with force felt like trying to pull off a one-size-too-small-wet-t-shirt (that is to say, annoyingly unproductive and leaving me more tangled up with each attempt). Sometimes, I felt paralyzed by it, unable to do much of anything but sleep, meditate, or journal. I know meditation and journaling aren’t accessible to everyone in heavy depressive states, and I recognize what a  privilege it is that they were accessible to me. They seriously helped me process my feelings, or lack of discernible feelings.

Whenever I felt that gray visitor enter my sphere, I remember recoiling, trying to make it go away. I’m grateful, because I never fell into addiction as a way to numb this existential pain, but the thought of numbing it all away for a time, however brief, crossed my mind some days. I honor each and every person who has been overcome by addiction, I may not fully understand what that feels like, but I can do my best to imagine, and I send my love to anyone in that situation (I send my love to you, if you’re reading this while working with/through addiction). Each time I’d feel the big-bad-gray feeling, I’d lean into trying to understand it; not from a place of love, but from the mind of an enemy. I wanted to learn everything I could about that feeling, so that I could destroy it. Fast forward, and surprise surprise, I was never able to destroy it. I did learn about it though.

I learned that it was/is a part of me that is throwing a tantrum, yelling “I feel so fucking disturbed by so many aspects of this world I live in! Everything feels wrong, and I don’t know what to do about it!” It’s heavy to say, but truly how I felt. There are such horrors that we humans perpetuate on ourselves and the rest of the living world, it absolutely guts me and cracks my heart open. Yet simultaneously there is such incredible delight and beauty in this world. The contrast of the horror and delight is jarring. The complexity of all the good and bad mixed up in one another makes it very hard to feel fully justified in any one stance or opinion, particularly in a world where sound bites, 7 second video clips, and AI fabrications are rampantly shared. Add on the fact that things are shared without context and twisted to fit the narrative of whoever’s speaking, there’s a cultural pull to be a sound-bite-of-a-person; flat, firm, singularly minded, and rigid in our opinions. When in reality, we are not that. We are complex, malleable, nuanced, and long winded beings. The complex, malleable, nuanced, and long winded being that I am, decided I had to see it all (the horror and delight) and lean in favor of the delight. I choose to be an optimist.

All that being said, I’ve discovered a few things that held me anchored in my (sometimes naïve) optimism. Maybe you’ve found similar insights. Love, as cliché as it is, is the root of it all I feel. I believe that a strong foundation in love is vital; continually practicing love for self, love for other people (human and other-than-human), love for our crafts, love for really anything and everything we can find in ourselves to love, is a worthwhile attitude to cultivate. From love, all good things flow. Beyond just good, all sacred things too.

Sacred is a word that isn’t used as much right now as it once was. There’s been an 80.46% decrease in written use of the word, from its peak in 1813 to 2010 (Google books Ngram Viewer). Perhaps that’s because in a world marred by the overexpression of capitalism, not much is deemed sacred. Capitalism in its current state sees everything as a commodity, from water to land to plants to animals to humans (slavery, labor). It’s incompatible to see something as sacred while simultaneously over extracting, abusing, and selling it. In rebuttal to current state capitalism, we can reclaim our understanding of the sacred. Just like I believe we should keep loving anything we can find it in us to love, I am a firm believer and practitioner of continually expanding our definitions of that which is sacred. 

Even as I took time to continually expand my definition of that which I could respect and treat as sacred, I struggled and struggled against a wall of energetic paralysis. I couldn’t figure out what to do with myself that would help push our trajectory towards that more beautiful collective vision that I so desperately believed in. I would squirm at my lack of answers to the question, “what’s the right thing to do?” Eventually as an angsty teen I said “fuck it”, and just decided to do whatever felt doable. 

Making art about it was the first thing that felt doable. So as an older teen feeling pissed and disillusioned with the fast paced, dehumanizing world I perceived (a common feeling then, and now), I decided to do something about it. I stood in the median of a busy road and spray painted on a big plywood sheet, the words, “Do you see me?” I then sat in meditation underneath it, facing the north bound traffic. It certainly wasn’t intended to fix the world overnight. It was just intended to snap a few people out of their work-day-commute daze, and get them to think about the weird young man along the side of the road. Maybe they’d tell their spouse or roommate about it when they got home. Honestly, whether it made the commuters think or not was somewhat beside the point. It made one person's life better; mine. In those moments of being seen painting and sitting along the side of the road, I no longer felt silent in the looming face of humanity's disrespect of life, of the sacred. I found a voice, by doing something.

Then, just after turning 20, I did something else; I went and lived on a farm in Hawai’i for 2 months as a volunteer. I spent a lot of time thinking, painting, and working with the plants and animals of the island. I realized how important it is to me to be a good ancestor. Being in Hawai’i, nurturing the soil and learning, made me feel like I was doing something for myself and for my planet.

When I came home to Colorado, I wanted to do more for the planet and all my fellow residents. Selfishly, I also wanted to do something to ease a resurgence of the big-bad-gray feeling. Come Earth Day 2020, I went and picked up trash in my favorite park. Then I recorded a video talking about my environmental feelings, sharing why I went and picked up the trash and shared it on the internet (it sounded strikingly similar to this essay). A few hundred people saw it. A handful of them expressed that they felt resonant with what I said. That sense of communion and camaraderie felt good. 

I began to suspect that there was no singular, most powerful, highest, or most noble thing to do about what I felt was wrong with the world. There were just… things I could do. I felt affirmed from my experience, that doing anything felt a whole lot better than doing nothing, even if it was half-baked or hairbrained. Doing something from a place of loving and thoughtful intention felt even better, and got a lot more done, I think. 

On that farm in Hawai’i, I made a lot of art asking all sorts of questions that helped to make me more loving, thoughtful, and intentional. I was reaffirmed that making art is one of the somethings that I have to do. At that time I was a very logical person. Sometimes I still am, but I try to think far less than I once did. My then overly logical (and often catastrophizing) brain came to the very logical conclusion that art was a good thing to do. My deduction was based upon predicted best and worst case scenarios for humanity and the planetary collective as a whole. I figured that whether the collective trajectory went down an, “intelligent, sustainable, equitable and beautiful, humanity in balance with all life, solarpunk-utopia, peace on earth” trajectory, or a “cataclysmic overconsumption and desecration of all life via oppression, fascism, and toxic capitalism” kind of path, art seemed like something that would be valuable: in the face of the first scenario, art can amplify and express all that is good with the world and encourage us to stay engaged; In the face of the second scenario, art can be a rebellion, a way to shine a light on what is wrong and to wake people up from complacency. I viewed pursuing art as a way of “hedging my bets”, so to speak.

Perhaps hedging my bets on whether humanity implodes or not is morbid, but it feels reasonable to me. The naïve optimism I once felt has been maturing, with more than a little help from the big-bad-gray feeling that I now know as “overwhelming uncertainty”. I began to occasionally relate to that feeling as a mentor and friend, instead of always being an enemy. 

Nowadays, I still regularly feel that old familiar visitor of overwhelming uncertainty, clinging in its old familiar place on my back, tendrils reaching into my heart like a weed in the cracks of concrete. I’ve long come to know that trying to make it go away through sheer force of will, is not plausible. I’ve also come to learn that accepting what is present in me, is always a better approach, and so, I accept and choose to love this feeling to the best of my ability. I breathe into it, welcome it, and ask it what it has to say. I’d like to think that the naive optimism that I once felt, is finally transmuting into a realistic optimism. A realistic optimism is one that allows me to see the things that feel good and bad, while leaning towards believing in and fighting for the good. 

I still sometimes ask myself, “what really matters in this world?” I think it’s good to return to these kinds of questions, to make sure we are on track, whatever that means for us individually. I no longer believe that there’s a singular right or wrong answer as far as how to live, and how to act. I do believe there are better and worse ways, or ways that point us where we want to go, and ways that point us away from that. The only compass that really matters, I feel, is our intuition and love. Acting from that place might lead you to sitting on the side of the road, running to an island in the middle of the sea, or dedicating your life to creating pretty things. When we act in faith that the things we are doing matter, and we point ourselves towards that lovely collective vision of a life worth living, we can find some sense of direction and certainty. Even acting from a harebrained, teen angst, or in some silly, self appeasing way, positive forward momentum can help to ease the ache of that big-bad-gray feeling on our backs. Action can give you a voice, and help you to refine that voice. Making pretty things no matter how good or bad you think they are, can help you to craft a realistic optimism. Most of all, it’ll make you feel a little better, a little more loving, and a little more calm in the face of it all, and I think that’s a pretty beautiful start.


Google. (n.d.). Sacred (1600-2010). Google Ngram Viewer. 


Featured image: "Grow Through" pendant by Austin Kent. Photography by Hunter Stephens (

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.