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 1, 2014 -- Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT)
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 2124 GMT (0524 HKT)
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2350 GMT (0750 HKT)
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT