Celebrating Our Diverse Brains: Melody Olander

by Ariela Paulsen
Celebrating Our Diverse Brains: Melody Olander

This week, we are learning about neurodiversity in our community. We reached out to Melody Olander — author of But You Don’t Look Sick — about why she loves her unique brain:

Tell us a little about your journey!

My name is Melody Olander and I have had a rare disease since I was 17 years old. I am now 24 years old, and I have been diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP), Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS),  Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), and overfocused ADD. After publishing my book, But You Don’t Look Sick, I decided to dedicate my time towards connecting the chronically ill community and starting a non-profit. A new diagnosis can be a scary journey, and it can make you feel alone. I wanted to help others feel a little bit less alone.

What does neurodiversity mean to you? 

To me, neurodiversity means that all neurological differences are recognized and respected just like anything else that makes humans unique. I wish that others would see that people with differences do not always need to be ‘cured.’ Instead, with the proper accommodation/help, I believe that neurodiverse individuals can thrive.

What does your neurodiversity look like? 

 My neurodiversity makes me unique, and with the correct accommodations I’ve learned to instead see my differences almost as a superpower. I have something called overfocused ADD. This means I get hyper-focused on one thing at a time and tune everything else out (i.e. I ignore people a lot when I’m working on something). This makes the version of ADD I have unique because an issue many ADD individuals have is starting up a lot of projects but never finishing them. For me, having ADD means I start up a lot of projects, but hyper-fixating makes me finish them all as perfectly as I can. I can multi-task to the extreme and I’ve been able to accomplish a lot more than other individuals my age.

What challenges have you faced from being in environments that didn’t work with your brain?  

There are a lot of environments that overwhelm me and can make it difficult for me to work. My ADD and hyperfixating makes some environments feel overwhelming or too distracting to work in. If someone is in the back of the room tapping their foot or their pen, that’s all I can focus on. Something that’s helped me avoid becoming overwhelmed with noises is using earphones and playing music while working on projects/assignments. If I need to listen to a lecture, I try to write notes, look at the powerpoint and listen to the speaker to keep my mind distracted enough. I’ve been in classrooms that force you to stay though to work on assignments, the room is extremely noisy and then they don’t let you use earphones. Those times would annoy me because I feel like the environment was chaos for my brain and I couldn’t work on much. Usually I would ask the teacher if I could leave and finish in the library or hallway to deal with those chaotic classrooms.

What strengths have you noticed from your “divergent” brain?

Having a divergent brain means I’m constantly thinking of things differently than 99% of the world.. And I love it! I’m currently a project manager and a CEO/founder of a non-profit and none of that would’ve been possible without my way of thinking. For me, management comes easily with being overfocused because I focus on and notice aIl the details. I can manage different projects at the same time and not feel overwhelmed. I’ve finished both my bachelors and my masters degree as summa cum laude while working, volunteering, and fighting a rare illness. I love my divergent brain and I wish more people would!

How did Melody’s story resonate with you? Have you experienced environments that made a difference for your brain? Let us know in our Friends in the Fight facebook group!

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