Solome Tibebu’s journey to becoming a leader in healthcare innovation, award-winning social entrepreneur, and advocate for mental health and diversity began with a blog: while still in high school, Tibebu found had been experiencing severe panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Through various therapists, medications, and psychoeducation, she finally learned how to best manage her symptoms. She was, however, dismayed by the lack of online resources or community of other youth going through something similar – which ultimately left her feeling isolated and misunderstood. So she decided to do something to change that, starting AnxietyInTeens.org and equipping young adults worldwide with tools and community to advance emotional wellness.
I sat down with Tibebu to learn more about her story and what she’s learned:
Bruneau: Let’s hear more about how you came up with AnxietyInTeens.org.
Tibebu: I was the type of teen who would head to the local Barnes Noble after school to devour as much information about anxiety and OCD as I could. The more knowledge I gained about my conditions, the more powerful I felt. I believed it was critical that more youth would have access to this sort of psycho-education everywhere. As I set out to build Anxiety In Teens, I was empowered that I could put this energy to good use. This process of writing and creating still informs the expressive writing programs we do today.
Later, as an adult, I would get seasons of OCD come back into my life, which baffled me at first. I realized even I was disillusioned into thinking that this was just a teenage phase. It is, in fact, something that I will need to manage for the rest of my life . As I consider my mental health journey and acknowledge how it continues to evolve, I stay engaged with the shifts in our audience’s wants and needs, too. I’m better equipped to hear and understand their plights, because it is mine, too.
Bruneau: How do mental health challenges make entrepreneurship challenging?
Tibebu: We often hear that the entrepreneurial path offers extreme highs and lows, exasperating an already frustrating situation for someone struggling with mental illness. We’re also told that we are somehow supposed to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, not only in the business sense but emotionally, as well. Practically speaking, one can’t simply avoid symptoms of a mental health disorder for too long . They change your plans, no matter what background you come from or how much you planned to accomplish. Sooner or later, it will impact your business, relationships and more.
My mental health experience has placed barriers between me and my peers and network in some sense, yet brought me together with others as well. It has required me to prioritize and consider what matters most more than ever. It has forced me to consider who I bring into my life and organization and how I communicate personally and professionally.
Bruneau: How have you built psychological resilience in the face of anxiety and OCD?
Tibebu: In the midst of some of my most challenging mental health lows, I recall intense impatience with my symptoms. “How totally inconvenient for this to be happening right now!” I thought, to say the least. Fortunately, with a kind, supportive and specialized mental health care provider and a renewed desire to put myself first, I started implementing the same evidence-based strategies that worked for me early on. This included regularly doing the assigned homework from my clinician, getting enough sleep, regular exercise including long runs, practicing mindfulness through various daily exercises and yoga, and practicing self-compassion.
Bruneau: How have your experiences with anxiety and OCD lent to your success?
Tibebu: My experience has allowed me to embody a much greater capacity for compassion for myself and others. It has allowed me to develop the skills to manage disruptive emotions and develop a sense of equanimity in the face of busyness and uncertainty. It has brought me closer to individuals and families from all walks of life across the country, whose stories and journeys I would never have otherwise heard or known about. I’ve been very fortunate to access the resources and opportunities I have thus far, and I’m very hopeful to see what growing body of individuals and organizations there is who want to advance access and innovation in mental health-care.
Bruneau: What advice would you give someone going through what you went through, entrepreneur or not?
Tibebu: Don’t suffer in silence . You are absolutely not alone in what you are going through, and mental illness is treatable and manageable . Odds are, one of the four closest people in your circle have also experienced some sort of mental health issue in their lifetime. Some of your closest family or friends may not understand what you’re going through, but they don’t necessarily need to right now. So long as you can get the help you need and put your health first, that is what matters.
Bruneau: What’s a favorite quote or advice you received that captures your mindset today?
Tibebu: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde