The unconventional Ramadan series shedding light on Mental Health, educating adults and children alike.
This series definitely got people thinking, and maybe even wondering “do I have ADHD?” I know parents who want to get their children assessed because they now make sense of their behaviour through the lens of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.
I heard about the portrayal of ADHD as a central element of this series, and as somebody strongly invested in this field, I thought I should watch it. However, I found so much more than just that, and I simply loved it.
Zizi (short for Zeinab and far more adapted to her character) is the titular main character of the show, but at first glance, she is quite difficult to swallow. We don’t know why she acts the way she does, and frankly, she’s exhausting. She’s impulsive, loud, and confrontational. We feel this immediately, and she’s constantly told by the people in her life as well. They call her crazy, irresponsible, and reckless. We can also see how difficult it is for her to maintain interpersonal relationships. It’s challenging to portray such a difficult main character because usually, you expect them to be likable, but Zizi is disorganized and demanding, her anger outbursts are endless, and often seem unjustified. From the very first episode, it seems like her life is falling apart, and we feel like she brought this upon herself. I mean, she did just give her husband a concussion in a fit of rage…
However, we are gradually led to understand her situation and the roots of her behaviour, and with that understanding come empathy and compassion. Zizi, too, is kinder to herself once she makes sense of the reality of her illness. That’s a really important message. We tend to judge people around us based on the external layer we see, so sometimes it’s hard to excuse them. But if you know what’s going on, you take on a different approach. That’s why it’s important to be kinder to each other, because we won’t always know what is happening in other people’s lives and minds.
Mona El Shimy, one of the screenwriters of the show, is herself a psychologist. I believe that she and the other creators were able to accurately depict what ADHD looks like in both children and adults, and quite in depth: what triggers people with ADHD, how certain everyday tasks can be really stressful, how this stress appears: fidgeting, shaky legs, how they express frustrations, speak and act impulsively, how distractible they are, and finally how they are misunderstood and blamed/ostracized for being “too much”.
" كفاية قرف بقى، أنتِ محتاجه تعالجي العصبيه دي ”
In parallel to Zizi’s storyline, we find many similarities in a 9-year-old girl, Tito. Tito is struggling at school, and her impulsivity leads to problematic behaviour, but she is simply perceived as ill-mannered, stupid, and lazy. In fact, the show also takes the time to bust those myths/misconceptions and stigmas associated with ADHD. All expectations of Tito are based on the expectations of neurotypical children. After many complaints, the school requested an assessment for Tito (chapeau to the school!), and it shows us the parents’ resistance to that, and the lack of awareness regarding psychological disorders, especially in older generations. We then learn about ADHD, how to cope with it, how to manage the symptoms, and Tito’s parents learn as well, with lots of trial and error, including several failed attempts at shadow teachers until Zizi is the perfect fit (of course!).
A pivotal moment in the show is when Zizi decides she wants to seek help, and not just because those around her pressure her to. The motivation is intrinsic, she wants to be a better version of herself, and that is key. She is ready to process having lived with an undiagnosed disorder all these years, and deal with the consequences that this had on her life. We see glimpses of an angry Zizi as a child, locked up in the laundry room for being naughty and out of control. Sami, the psychologist, walks us through how things that happened years ago can still have an impact on a person today. Sami is kind and patient, he plants seeds and allows them to grow at the client’s pace, he’s everything you want your therapist to be. In quite a few emotional scenes, Zizi realizes she wasn’t crazy after all, and she wasn’t angry for no reason, and you can feel her relief at that thought:
"اتشال من عليا تهمة الجنان اللي لبساها طول حياتي"
The show also shows us the lack of self confidence that individuals with ADHD can struggle with, because of the feeling that they can’t achieve what others can, not in the same way or at the same pace; the idea of people expecting failure of you, blaming you constantly for things you feel you have little or no control over.
As the show progresses and Zizi gains insight into her situation and is able to manage her symptoms, we feel like she is taking less space in the story, the same way she is taking less space in others’ lives. There is more room for the other characters now. So, besides the central focus on Zizi's ADHD, Khalli Balak Men Zizi manages to widen its scope by portraying the effects of other mental health issues on several supporting characters. There’s Nelly, and the severe anxieties and fears we progressively notice in her character, and how they affect her daily life; she struggles to sleep alone, she can’t get on a plane... We learn that these anxieties stem from a childhood fear of abandonment. Sami guides us to understand the roots of the characters’ grievances, and we learn that they don’t always have to be so painful. We also find the widespread problem of bullying, targeting those who are different from the rest. And finally, there’s Sami, who is helping so many of the characters overcome their challenges and heal, while he himself is guilt-ridden over the loss of his son to suicide. Additionally, there’s Hesham, Zizi’s now ex-husband, on a road of self-discovery after feeling alienated for years, overshadowed by Zizi’s chaos and needs - one of my personal favorites and most amusing character developments. This bit sheds light on how overwhelming it can be to live with someone who has untreated ADHD, the same way Zizi’s mother was struggling when her daughter was young.
This series does more than simply raise awareness of one mental disorder. In showing all these different characters’ struggles, Khalli Balak Men Zizi shows us that it’s okay to seek professional help. It normalizes therapy in a conservative society, as well as vulnerability in both men and women, old and young. It portrays flawed and complex characters, who are also relatable in different ways. They learn from their mistakes and want to be better and do better for themselves and those around them. It was so refreshing to see this, especially paired with wonderful and honest performances from the actors and genuinely funny scenes, like how Zizi never bothers to park properly and her absurd reactions to jokes she doesn’t understand. It’s a show about empathy and compassion, and the importance of others believing in us. Important not only for awareness, but also allow individuals, parents and children alike, to reflect on themselves, and to pay attention to the words they use because words can scar.
Finally, Khalli Balak Men Zizi shows us that once diagnosed and with some help and support, a person with ADHD can learn to manage their symptoms and live with the disorder without it controlling them. Both Tito and Zizi can use their strengths and energy in positive ways and can thrive, and they do!
Just like Sami says, you need to “find their keys” - unlock the potential they have, hiding behind the messy exterior.
(Note: Careful about confirmation bias! We tend to notice things in ourselves after learning that they exist! Talk to a professional if you feel you are noticing patterns or experiences of a mental illness, but are not sure!)