Hazem (21) was two years old when he moved from the Netherlands to Egypt, but he used to come on holiday to the Netherlands every year. When he was sixteen, he returned to to finish his school here. After secondary school, he went to Breda University of Applied Sciences but didn’t enjoy it. He was soon drawn to the International Bachelor Communication and Media (IBCoM) in Rotterdam. He now lives with fifteen other students on Avenue Concordia in Kralingen. It’s an ideal location, says Hazem. “You’re really near the campus, but also close to the Kralingse Plas.”
It’s only been a few months since Hazem found out officially that he has ADHD. Looking back, however, it explains why things didn’t go so well at secondary school. Why aren’t I getting good grades, Hazem wondered after enrolling in an English-speaking secondary school in the Netherlands. “In Egypt, I got good grades”, he says. “I thought it might be due to the language, but my English wasn’t bad.”
Increasingly, he began to doubt himself. He felt anxious and confused. “I worked harder than the others, spent more time on everything, put 200 percent energy into school, but the result was perhaps 60 percent. While others who put in less effort got better results. I didn’t know why. I thought that everyone was like me. Daydreaming in class, problems meeting deadlines.” Now Hazem knows that his ADHD and the Dutch education system (which often relies on memorising and independent learning) don’t go well together.
When Hazem arrives late somewhere, he gets told off by colleagues or managers for being ‘lazy’ or for his ‘unprofessional attitude’. If he forgets someone’s birthday, people think he’s not interested and unreliable. “And that really hurts”, says Hazem. “Remember that I’m much harder on myself than you are. It really gets to me. I get so angry with myself after something like that. People with ADHD aren’t lazy; we really do our best. We can’t help the fact that certain parts of our brain work differently from other people’s brains. So be careful what you say.”
The areas of the brain that regulate planning, attention, motivation and impulse control are slightly smaller and less active in people with ADHD. The brain also has a natural filter which helps regulate external stimuli. That filter doesn’t work very well in people with ADHD. One incoming stimulus may not be received, while another results in sensory overload. “Expecting the same of people with ADHD as everyone else is like expecting a fish to be able to climb a tree.”
Medication has helped Hazem to ‘finally feel like a student’. “I can now focus during a lecture, remember things better. And that gives me more self-confidence. This year, I’m doing a board year at Erasmus Music Collective and I’m an ambassador at IBCoM.”
The medication helps, but Hazem still needs to stay alert. “I always explain it like this”, he says. “You can easily hold fifty marbles. But I can’t, they just fall out of my hands, however hard I try. The medication is a plastic bag holding the marbles. It’s very helpful, but there’s a tiny hole at the bottom. If I’m not careful, a marble can still fall out.”
Don’t think that this medication solves everything, says Hazem. It took ages before he found the right medication. For a long time, the medication made him sick. Even though he’s now found a dose that works, it isn’t ideal. “One side effect is that I don’t feel hungry. I need to remind myself to eat. I’ve asked my housemates to tell me when they’re going to cook or eat. Then I know that it’s time to have a meal.” Such side effects aren’t often mentioned, says Hazem. Overall, though, he’s happy with it.
Want to know more about ADHD? Hazem recommends this thread on Twitter: