On Being A Late Diagnosed ADHDer

Life as a girl in the 90s, bad coping mechanisms, and learning to live with an unorganized brain

Lea O


Photo by Ferenc Horvath on Unsplash

My mom wrapped a long blue cord out the sliding glass and around the back porch, careful not to pinch it too much when she closed the door.

She’s referred to it as “smokin’ like a house on fire,” only with less ‘ire’ and more ‘urr’ at the end. It was the 90s in rural Kentucky, where everybody smoked, and most of my backyard was still a tobacco field.

I sneaked a long Marlboro Light 100 from the pack the summer I turned 12 and used her same hiding spot at the end of our hand-me-down double-wide. That turned out to be the second mistake of the day. My dad caught me and made me smoke two more all the way to the filter.

I still remember how much my stomach churned, and my head ached from the rush of nicotine. It was too late, though. Despite feeling disgusting and ill, I also felt, for the first time, calmness in my whole body. That was it. I was hooked.

My MIL has always said my smoking habit was nervous energy. She turned out to be more right than maybe either of us realized. I’ve quit and started, started and quit many times over.

Nearly twenty years later and I’ve finally gotten a diagnosis that would’ve changed my life and the trajectory of it if only girls weren’t continually left out by science and medical care.

It’s nervous energy, it’s dopamine, it’s a hand to mouth fixation that allows me to focus hyperactivity elsewhere in my body, and it’s ten minutes of a distraction, alone and outside.

All the boxes of ADHD — ticked. ✅

In my thirties, I’m finally unpacking all the behaviors I learned to cope in secret. Smoking was only the tip of the iceberg when pared against the decade I spent in the grips of over-exercising and under-eating, an attempt to quiet my brain and busy my body I took to an extreme.

I coped in other ways, too, with food, alcohol, writing, and obsessing over keeping a clean house. And by clean, I mean I was what they call spring cleaning on a weekly basis. The constant overwhelm seeped into every pore of my body, creating a web of traps I couldn’t escape from no…