Today we’re sharing a conversation with our founder, Savanah Clements. Savanah created Keep Choosing Life following a challenging six year battle with her own mental health. This nonprofit is the product of her struggles paired with her desire to help others work through theirs. Savanah’s mission for KCL is to help people access the resources they need to maintain and better their mental health.
Savanah is a survivor. She’s walked through years of trauma and came out a better person. She didn’t start the Keep Choosing Life just for fun though - she started it to save lives. She wants people to know how much they matter. Spending her time working on her own mental health and creating resources for others to work on theirs. She’ll stop at nothing to make others feel heard and valued.
PLEASE NOTE - In this interview we talk about Savanah’s suicide attempts. If you are sensitive to specifics, please proceed with caution.
KCL: Can you share some of your mental health journey? S: I was diagnosed with depression at thirteen and between thirteen and about nineteen years old I attempted suicide multiple times. I also self harmed in many ways that involved cutting and drinking alcohol. I didn’t start seeing a therapist until last year. The first time I saw a therapist I was fourteen and she basically shamed me for feeling how I felt and so I never went back. A year into starting this organization I felt that it was worth trying to better my mental health because I felt I couldn’t help others if I wasn’t helping myself so I started going to therapy. I’m here now and it’s been great. KCL: How has going to therapy changed or impacted your mental health? S: I think that therapy has opened up my eyes a little bit more to things that I’ve struggled with and things that other people struggle with. Therapy has been more of a learning process and it’s started so many healing processes for me. It’s helped me learn triggers from past traumas. It’s taught me how to handle them and how to better communicate those triggers with others. fTherapy in general is probably one of the greater decisions I’ve made because it not only helped me overcome a lot of the stuff that I dealt with when I was suicidal, it also helped me realize a lot of things about myself from when I was a child to when I was a young adult. KCL: You attempted suicide multiple times, what are some of the lessons you learned/what was that like for you? S: Umm, I think what I learned is that the first time I was scared because I don’t think that when you’re actually at that place you want to go through with it. You want to take the pain from what you’re going through internally and focus it externally. So, the first time I was fourteen and I tried to hang myself. I didn't go through with it because as soon as I made the noose I had a breakdown and I immediately undid it. I just kind of kept going on with my life after that. The one that sticks out to me the most is when I tried to drown myself. That attempt was more eye opening because as soon as I started to lose consciousness I pulled myself out of the water and immediately started crying. It was the middle of the night so I couldn't really tell anyone, my family didn’t know this was going on at the time. So I just remember crying and silently screaming basically like, ‘I don't want to die but I don't want to deal with what’s going on’. I think that was one of the bigger lessons not only for myself, but for anyone who’s struggling with suicide ideation or suicide attempts. You genuinely don't want to end your life, you just want to end what you’re struggling with. That’s something I think about all the time, especially if I find myself in a dark place - I know that I’m not going to take my life because I know that I don’t want that temporary pain to have a permanent solution. KCL: Do you still have times where you think about suicide in a way that’s as real or as heavy as before? S: Umm, no. I think the difference is that the ideas still show up but there is no action to match it. Like, there are some days where it’d just be easier to not wake up but most days I’m more excited to be here. The biggest difference is that there’s no action to go with it. The thought is there but, because of therapy, I’ve learned when the thought doesn't serve me and doesn’t deserve the space in my head I can acknowledge it and let it go. KCL: Can you share a bit about how your mental health changed when you went up to college and then after you left? S: When I went up to college it was a new level of experiencing whatever I was going through. I thought I had dealt with those demons once but it was like they grew up with me into adulthood. Going up to college was when more heavy drinking happened. I was living with people who all struggled with depression and I don’t really think that helped, it was like we all unknowingly kind of encouraged each other to be sad. I had moved out for the first time and was going to school and still didn’t know exactly what I was doing. Coming home to that environment all the time was not great. So I drank a lot and I just kind of hoped that, because everything felt kind of heavy, that if I drank enough my liver would fail. But, when I left college I think it was healing from the shame of dropping out of school and then essentially trying to pick up my life and get it together when I still didn’t know what was going on. It was hard to process all the shame from that and also start over and figure out friends and return to work or school and all that. It was a lot of stress, it felt like high functioning depression at that point. KCL: Can you share a bit on how you took all of the pain from those seasons and turned it into wanting to help other people work through it/how KCL came about? S: Well, not specifically KCL but the idea of wanting to help other people started about a year after I was diagnosed with depression. I didn’t know if it was going to be a nonprofit or if I was going to be a licensed mental health professional. I just wanted to do something because during that time all my friends were getting diagnosed with the same or similar things. I was always the call for their suicide attempts or if they were self harming. Being thirteen/fourteen that’s kind of a lot to handle when you are struggling with it yourself. I knew at that time that I wanted to do something that involved helping other people. Then, growing up and meeting so many people I realized money is not my end goal so I figured a nonprofit would make the most sense. I just didn’t know what it would look like. When I was 22, still struggling with my own stuff, I realized there’s no better time than now to start the nonprofit. At the time, we had just lost Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain by suicide. Around their deaths, a lot of people kept asking why they would do it when they had so much money and seemingly good lives. All of those questions seemed so miniscule because we aren't focusing on the bigger issue. When things like that happen, even though they aren’t people that I immediately knew, I always wondered if I had taken my life and what were the questions people would have asked about me. Like, ‘she came from such a good family, she had all these good friends and a good job’ all these things that don’t necessarily matter, those things don’t determine my happiness. Combining all those things it just seemed like the best time to start Keep Choosing Life. KCL: You’re a really big fan of self care - what are some of your self care habits or rituals? S: It’s changed a lot. Self care is now, more than ever, been a lot of alone time with social interactions sprinkled in wherever it can be. I think that’s because I’ve learned to appreciate time alone and time to recharge. Whether that be something as simple as cooking or watching a movie, or now taking my dog on a walk and having him almost pull my arms off. I think that self care in general is me being more mindful when I’m by myself. KCL: Your mission with KCL is to help others access the resources they need to manage/maintain/better their mental health, where do you dream the nonprofit will be in the next few years? S: My dream would be that any person would be able to reach out to us and have all cost covered for whatever they need. Whether it’s us covering an entire year of therapy up front or something else. I’d like people to not have to second guess whether they should be going to a behavioral unit/hospital if their life is at risk but they don’t want to have a huge medical bill at the end of it. I don't want them to have to think about that at all. I just want them to go because they know they’ll come out of it better. I would like KCL to be an international thing, mental illness is not just a United States problem, it’s a worldwide problem. I’d like to have resources for other countries. It would be resources for all, not just therapy for all because therapy isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. I would like for us to be able to help anyone who needs it. I’d also like to have a volunteer system so people can just message in anonymously and be able to talk to others. KCL: What have you learned from helping others go through crisis or tough mental health situations? S: I think I’ve learned that I’m still alive for a reason and part of that reason is that people close to me were going to go through similar struggles as me but they didn’t have the hope that I had. They needed that hope or just someone to speak that hope into them. I learned that I’m stronger than I thought I was to be able to keep going and to have the compassion and empathy to help them and be understanding and meet them where they're at. To let them know that it’s not just a phase or something they’re going through for attention. Letting them know they are heard and their feelings are valid even if they don't know what exactly they’re feeling. The darkness they are/were experiencing doesn’t have to be that way forever. KCL: Is there anything you want to share with people going through similar things? S: I think my one piece of advice is that when you are in a really dark place it is okay to acknowledge it and be in it and feel it but it isn't okay to make a home in it. That darkness is not your forever. Knowing there is a way to get out of it, it's just going to take time. It’s going to be okay though.