Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Surviving the pain of childhood bullying

By Shane Koyczan, Special to CNN
May 8, 2013 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Spoken word poet Shane Koyczan rediscovered his childhood journal
  • In the darkness of his childhood, he retained a sense of humor
  • His poem has been viewed more than 8 million times on YouTube
  • Koyczan: "If you can't see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror"

Editor's note: Shane Koyczan is an award-winning Canadian poet, author and performer whose video "To This Day" has been viewed more than 8 million times on YouTube. He performed at the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and has published three works of fiction: "Visiting Hours," "Stickboy" and "Our Deathbeds Will be Thirsty." He spoke at TED2013 in February. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "ideas worth spreading," which it makes available through talks posted on its website.

(CNN) -- "To This Day" had a very small beginning. The poem itself was written in 2009 after rereading a series of notebooks I had written in as a child.

I'm fortunate enough to have a grandmother who never throws anything away, and one day, she returned a series of journals I had kept. I didn't pay any attention to them at first. I wondered what possible value could come from revisiting what I had already managed to survive.

One day, out of boredom, I picked up a journal and began reading it.

I was amazed to discover that in midst of all the darkness surrounding my childhood, there was a still a young boy with a sense of humor. After quickly consuming all of the other texts, I realized that I had been completely neglecting a large chapter of my life simply because I wanted to be done with the pain that I had associated with it.

Watch Shane Koyczan's TED Talk

Powerful bullying story goes viral

I wrote a series of pieces, all exploring my early life, and was not surprised to find that so many people were relating to the material.

There was a tremendous sense of agony as I prepared to perform the poems for the first time. I remember wondering why I was willfully about to put myself through these experiences again. It has been such a rewarding journey to rediscover a part of myself that I thought I had long discarded.

My band, Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long, ended up rerecording "To This Day" for our 2011 album Remembrance Year. The poem quickly became a requested piece from our catalog at live performances, and each time there seemed to be a special silence from the audience.

Fans have often remarked that we were telling their story back to them with that piece. I get a lot of mail regarding poems that I've written, but the letters I get in response to this piece are easily the most heartrending.

There are people in the world whose endurance staggers me. There are stories that test our hearts. They stretch us out into empathy, and all we can do is feel for these strangers who in an instant feel like family.

In 2012, I lent my voice to a project developed by Giant Ant studio for the Dalai Lama Center and their Educate the Heart campaign. The team at Giant Ant were great work partners, and they offered to lend me their services for a project down the road. It didn't take long to pick a project: "To This Day" was a piece I was wanting to do something special with for a long time.

Giant Ant put together an animated video call out to other animators and the response we got was overwhelming.

The team did an incredible job of threading the animations together to create the finished video. Language fails me in my gratitude for everyone who helped bring this project to life.

From "To This Day":

... if you can't see anything beautiful about yourself

get a better mirror

look a little closer

stare a little longer

because there's something inside you

that made you keep trying

despite everyone who told you to quit

you built a cast around your broken heart

and signed it yourself

you signed it

"they were wrong"

because maybe you didn't belong to a group or a click

maybe they decided to pick you last for basketball or everything

maybe you used to bring bruises and broken teeth

to show and tell but never told

because how can you hold your ground

if everyone around you wants to bury you beneath it

you have to believe that they were wrong

they have to be wrong

why else would we still be here?

we grew up learning to cheer on the underdog

because we see ourselves in them

we stem from a root planted in the belief

that we are not what we were called

we are not abandoned cars stalled out and sitting empty on a highway

and if in some way we are

don't worry

we only got out to walk and get gas

we are graduating members from the class of

f--- off we made it

not the faded echoes of voices crying out

names will never hurt me

of course

they did

but our lives will only ever always

continue to be

a balancing act

that has less to do with pain

and more to do with beauty ...

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Shane Koyczan.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT