KTamas' Blog

Remember kids, if Internet Explorer is brave enough to ask to be your default browser, you're brave enough to ask that girl out.

RE: Take Your Pills — My Story of ADHD

· 4426 words · 21 min read

Owen wrote about his journey with AD(H)D and I figured I could tell my story as well, especially since no two AD(H)D stories are the same.

A note on terminology: I use ADHD, the DSM-IV and up uses ADHD as well, with a note that not everyone is “H.” Instead, it has subtypes: ADHD-PI, ADHD-PH and ADHD-C, but even these names have alternatives. Naming things is difficult, y’all.

In the beginning…

I was what they call a “problem child”. From kindergarten, I had poor social skills: I would get bullied a lot, and I didn’t have a lot of friends either. The first 8 years I attended a grand total of 5 different schools, which didn’t help either, neither did the fact that I was fired from the penultimate one for said lack of social skills and my old school did not take me back for the same reason. I’ve spent most of the last 3 years homeschooled, and by homeschooled I mean being home mostly by myself, learning the material on my own and having tests at the end of each semester to get grades. I was a smart kid as well, and while I’d like to think I wasn’t too obnoxious about it, I’m sure that didn’t help, either.

(the homeschooling thing is a whole ‘nother story which I’ll not go into it here, but let me just say, it was, in some ways, genuinely helpful for me)

My parents were not great at handling all this. They saw something was wrong early on, but couldn’t for the life of them figure out what exactly, and how to fix it, so in many ways, they just made things worse. I was raised in a fairly strict fundamentalist Christian household, so they’d mostly respond with various forms of punishment, and yes that included corporal.

We have to take a small detour here: besides my ADHD, I’ve had undiagnosed anxiety issues and OCD as well. When most people hear OCD, they think of the shit you see in the movies: people closing the door precisely six times, obsessively cleaning things, etc. While there are cases that are like that, a lot, I repeat, a lot of people live with OCD where it mostly happens in their head. For me, that manifested in a lot of crazy irrational fears going around in my head on loop 247 and a sense of helplessness of me not being able to counter them. My OCD wouldn’t get diagnosed until well into adulthood; I might write more on it later.

Getting diagnosed

This detour is crucial because ultimately my OCD was what lead to a huge meltdown I had when I was 12. I was out of it for days, full of crazy fears (another story for another day) and my parents did not handle that too well either. After a few days, they took me to an inpatient psychiatric clinic, which was a pretty traumatic experience (once again, another story for another day) but they did finally diagnose me with ADHD and gave me medication for it (Ritalin IR 10mg, once or twice a day, can’t quite remember). After this, I became homeschooled for the rest of elementary school (see above). My parents say I improved with medication.

I went back to attending school in grade 9 for four years of high school. The first year was hell; I still had no social skills and still got bullied a lot. But something started to change in the second year, and by the end of that I had a group of friends, reasonable social skills, wasn’t bullied too much anymore, and the last two years of high school is something I genuinely enjoyed.

Around the age of 16 or so, to the recommendation of my psychiatrist, my parents stopped giving me medication. My parents claim they switched to placebo and didn’t notice a difference; to be fair, neither did I at the time. They said I “grew out of it,” which was a popular notion at the time. You also have to keep in mind that ADHD medication, research and pretty much everything usually lags at least 10-15 years behind the US in Hungary (and to a certain degree, in Europe). We know better, nowadays, that a lot of ADHD kids don’t “grow out of it” and struggle through adulthood.

I worked as a journalist through high school and started freelancing with a translation agency as well, who hired me full-time after my graduation.

Things went mostly well for the first few years; everything was new, and novelty is a huge motivational factor for ADHD. Working in the same office together with people is helpful too, not to mention deadlines. They did let me be a generalist and work at my own pace when client work was not involved. This was both a blessing and a curse; I didn’t feel any unnecessary pressure, but in hindsight, I procrastinated a lot and beat myself up for it (I still do). I don’t subscribe to the cult and fetishization of productivity, but that’s a fact. A bit of nudge from someone goes a long way. I was suffering in a lot of different ways as well; I’ll get back to these things later in this article.

Getting rediagnosed

I was 21 when somehow, I genuinely don’t remember how, I stumbled upon a book that’d change my life: You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!: The Classic Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder. I read it, and I immediately knew, I still had ADHD.

I went through a long and arduous process of being rediagnosed, not unlike the one Owen describes, so I’ll skip the description of the process. For me it took weeks, and it kinda sucked, but in the end, I got my diagnosis and started medication once again. Ritalin IR, 10mg, twice a day.

Let’s take a break here and talk more about ADHD itself and how it feels for me. Strap in; this might take a while.

Talking about ADHD and what is it anyway?

Let me start by saying that it’s hard to talk to people about your ADHD and its symptoms. A lot of people will brush it or its symptoms off with things like “oh yeah I procrastinate too,” “yeah sometimes I forget where my keys are” or “yeah I can’t motivate myself to do boring things.” I could go on.

ADHD is not about whether you procrastinate, forget your keys, or have a hard time doing boring things, among other things. To get a diagnosis, you have to meet a certain set of criteria, and they have to do with a lot of different things and more importantly, the severity of them. That is what most people don’t realize when they say things like the ones I listed above. You can find DSM-V’s fairly good criteria listed here.

I will explicitly not go into the “is ADHD being overdiagnosed/are our kids being overmedicated” debate — that’d be an entire post in itself.

ADHD is the utter, extremely frustrating inability to focus on something that you consciously wants to. Your brain, through a variety of factors, decides what to focus on by itself and you have very limited say in that. This is one of the reasons Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder is a terrible name: I don’t have a deficit of attention, I just can’t focus it like neurotypical people do.

Biologically, people with ADHD have the prefrontal cortex of their brain all messed up. That’s the part regulating thoughts, feelings, impulses. The linked article gives a really good overview on that as well.

The other big biological factor is not having enough dopamine in your brain, which is where most stimulant medication help. This ADDitude magazine article has a good overview on them.

A large part of ADHD is what they call Executive Dysfunction (ED). This article has a good overview of it; the parts that I find affecting me are issues with inhibition, working memory, emotional self-regulation, self-motivation and to a certain degree, planning. Let me extend on these.

How ADHD feels like and looks like to me

Issues with emotional self-regulation manifest in me with a sense of being constantly bombarded by and feeling helpless against overwhelming emotions, especially the negative ones. I am particularly extremely sensitive to rejection.

My long-term memory is pretty great, however my short-term (working) memory is absolutely terrible. With my attention frequently being as bad as a butterfly — insert “look, squirrel!” joke here — it’s very easy to get lost in my thoughts and forget things.

There are things that help with this. Medication helps. Writing todo lists help. Breaking things down into subtasks help. Sticking to said todo-lists is eternally work-in-progress.

“Oh I don’t need to write this down, I will remember it” is the biggest lie I keep telling myself, and I still fall for it. If I know I need something done and/or remembered, I’ll 1. add it to my calendar 2. add it to my weekly todo list 3. make a reminder for it 4. if it’s more important, make 2 or 3 reminders for it, because sometimes I just ignore the first reminder and forget about the whole thing.

Problems around inhibition and impulsivity are abound. A lot of times, particularly with people, I either just close myself up completely or end up at the other extreme: blurt things out without thinking or start oversharing (people who know me and are reading this are heavily nodding at this point). For me, this applies to anger as well. I am the kind of person who suffers a lot silently in a relationship and then one day just blows up. I won’t attribute this entirely to ADHD, and this is something I did and do work on in therapy.

I’m impulsive in many things, but it’s not all black and white. Being impulsive is not bad in itself; but what you’re being impulsive with determines a lot. I used to be very impulsive with money for example; if I’d have money left after my day-to-day expenses, I’d spend it on some electronics. A few years after I started earning money I discovered YNAB and budgeting — since then I’m like 50% less bad with money.

Up until very recently, I had a hard time saving money, though that’s also wrapped in anxieties you inherit when you grow up poor. Most of my working life, and especially in recent years I’ve been fairly privileged in earning a good chunk of money, though.

This brings me to my next topic, which explains many things, like the issue with saving money: I have a very myopic sense of time, not unlike one of a young child. It’s hard for me to think long-term in general: for me, there is now and not-now. Now is what needs my immediate attention. Not-now is something I can worry about later. Sure I could save up, but that’s not-now, and that simply doesn’t exist.

Being a freelancer means having to manage my money and deal with sometimes irregular finances. Last year I got my first real long-term client, and that helped a lot. I could plan for things, and I have stumbled upon a stupid easy technique (besides budgeting) to stop myself from spending money that would be better saved for later: putting almost all my spare cash into deposits. It’s still available, and it’s only a few clicks away from being able to access it again, but those few clicks goes a long way to stop myself doing it. (They also earn an insultingly small amount of interest.)

Regarding motivation, one of the things that drive me most is a sense of novelty, which becomes my downfall as well. The dopamine hit it gives me is addictive. I find and start a new thing, I get immersed in it and I do it almost obsessively. Then the novelty wears off and I just stop doing it. I have a bazillion failed pet projects and abandoned hobbies.

This addiction to novelty generates what I call “ADHD boredom”, though I’m sure there is a proper term for it. Let’s say it’s the weekend, and I got nothing scheduled, which is really, really bad. Now, I lie to myself, great! A free weekend! I can do anything! I can just rest. This is a trap. Having free time is a trap.

I can’t “just rest”. I am not capable of that and yet, even now I keep lying to myself that I can. I need to do things. And, while I could do about 10 different things — work on pet projects! draw! write! cook! etc. — oftentimes I can not bring myself to do anything. My brain, being the dopamine-junkie it is and frequently understimulated, wants something new (see also the section about spending money on shiny electronics above), and it just decided that. This is where we, once again, come back to the fact that I have a serious issue consciously focusing my attention on something.

And this is why I’ll frequently end up on the couch, mindlessly watching TV series or movies, and not even enjoying them, it’s really just to pass the time. It’s anything but living. I want to do so many things and it really sucks that I just can’t oftentimes.

I used to be really disorganized, although that has improved a lot over the years, with the todo lists and other techniques I’ve mentioned above. Don’t get me started about all the shame I picked up in school from teachers criticizing me for having a messy desk or my parent’s constant frustration of the mess in my room. Decluttering often makes things worse; nowadays I strive towards organized chaos.

Structure and habits is an issue; it is a constant fight between being very rigid with my schedule/life/habits or just winging everything. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really good at improvising things, but it gets exhausting. On the other hand, starting a habit and sticking to habit is capital-h Hard, and so far I’ve found that for it to work long-term, it needs to be somewhat flexible, or I’ll just stop it after a few months if I get that far. That applies to writing as well; I don’t know how long I can keep up the 300 words a day thing. For now, it works, but I know there will come a point where it’ll feel like a prison (hey Owen can we have that vacation days feature sooner rather than later?).

Deciding things can be really hard, excruciatingly hard. So far the only solution I’ve found is to, wait for it, just pick something. I know this is not helpful at all, but that’s where I’m at.

All of this makes getting things done difficult, especially the mundane and monotonous. The techniques I’ve mentioned in the previous paragraphs help. Deadlines help. I still procrastinate a lot, and to a certain degree I’ve accepted it, and I am working extremely hard not to beat myself up because of it. And oftentimes it’s productive procrastination; I do something useful and needed while avoiding something else. Like, writing this article.

If you want to know more about what ADHD feels like, read this because I feel like I’m just repeating things from this article. I am legit scared to open it now before I publish this because that’d make this post about twice as long.

Being on meds and also, ADHD is not alone

Taking stimulant medication the first time in my adult life was life-changing. It’s not a magic bullet, but as I’ve mentioned above, it helps a lot in many things. It brings me to a baseline, just a tiny bit closer to neurotypical people, in terms of being able to get things done, especially the mundane, tedious things of life. It removes a certain amount of “fog” I feel in my brain without them.

It’s important to note that ADHD does not exist in a vacuum. It can be and more often not is comorbid with a lot of other mental health issues. Anxiety, Depression, OCD and so on — you can find a good article and list here. Everything I’ve just described can mostly be explained through the lens of ADHD, but definitely not exclusively.

The rest of my story

Last time we saw our protagonist — about two dozen paragraphs ago — he got rediagnosed and started taking stimulant medication again. What could have possibly gone wrong?

Plenty, as it turns out. A couple of months after starting my meds again, my lifelong untreated anxiety issues reached a breaking point, and I started having panic attacks. It forced me to seek help finally and so I did: I started a medication that helped me a lot, but I also had to take another break from Ritalin, one that would last a bit more, than a year. During that time, my anxiety issues improved, I moved to Sweden in January 2013, and I also started going to therapy.

Through a stroke of luck, I got to a government-funded psychiatrist pretty quickly in Sweden. What seems unreal looking back is that I literally walked into his office, told him my history over the next 90 minutes, discussed what medications I need and he simply prescribed them. I would later learn that this is almost an exception and a lot of places in the world want some sort of proof in writing, and they won’t just take your word for it.

And so I was back on Ritalin once again, and it certainly helped things.

It’s 2019 now, and a lot has changed. I’ve done therapy for almost six years. Right now I’m taking a break, one that’s necessary given that I finished up two relationships with two therapists within two months at the end of 2018 (long story).

I cannot stress enough how much therapy — once you found the right therapist! — helps, not just with ADHD, but with just about… everything? Nothing can replace doing the hard work of sifting through all your past issues and traumas that shaped you, especially in your childhood. It’s been life-changing for me, and I highly recommend it to literally everyone, if you can afford it and/or your insurance covers it. Once my break is over I will very likely continue the work.

There are also ADHD coaches, which I don’t have much experience with, but they are a thing, and many people find them helpful, though costly. Leave a comment if you’ve ever had one! I’d love to know more about those experiences.

The ADHD medications I take has changed a bunch of times during those years, and right now I’m on a lowish dosage of Elvanse (Vyvanse) combined with some Guanfacine. I really wish instant-release Adderall would be available in Europe because based on my experience with all other past meds, I have a hunch that it’s the thing that would work for me the best, but until then I’ll work with what’s available.

Elvanse has a very different effect on me compared to Ritalin (I tried both IR, then XR, then a combination of both). The latter was effective, but it did raise my already high anxiety levels, and we could never quite compensate for that. There’s also the fact that high anxiety gives constant issues with my stomach acid. Ritalin had what my psychiatrist calls the “throat to the knife” effect; it helped me to get things done partly by giving me a specific kind of anxiety, not unlike to a strict parent standing over my shoulder threateningly. It does kinda work, but it is also not quite right. Oh yeah, and it also made me increasingly depressed and miserable.

Switching to Elvanse was a revelation. I no longer have a knife to my throat, and my anxiety and depressiveness improved a lot. I’m also a lot less miserable and much happier in general; one of the things I noticed is that I’m laughing a lot more again. The downside of it is that many of my ADHD symptoms are a lot worse, especially my working memory and forgetfulness. I feel downright stupid sometimes. But for now, for me, it’s definitely worth the tradeoff.

Let me finish this section with the important disclosure that while I share these experiences with the hope it helps others, it is a very well known fact among psychiatrists that people react to stimulant medication in wildly different ways. What works for me may not work for you. A good psychiatrist can help you find the right medication and the correct dosage.

I did not list all the meds I take here, and stimulant medications are not the only medications for ADHD. Again, find a good psychiatrist.

I would love to geek out more about ADHD medication with others and trade stories in private; find me on social media, I’m KTamas just about everywhere (except on Instagram).

ADHD: a success story?

I am really good at solving problems and I have no issues whatsoever boasting about that. The other thing I am also really good at is learning new things, and learning them fast. If something interests me, I can jump on them, study them obsessively and get productive, fast. That’s literally at least half of why people hire me, even though “I don’t know X but trust me I will learn it in a week, several people can attest to that” is a hard sell sometimes. But I make it work.

I’m a freelancer, and half of my work comes by word-of-mouth: I work with people and then they recommend me to other people. I’m pretty damn good at selling myself because I have no shame or impostor syndrome when talking with prospective clients (I reserve those feelings to the rest of my time on earth). I’m also somewhat extraverted and good at networking. Going to conferences and networking the shit out of them is the other way I get jobs. That’s my “secret” for having a successful freelancing business for three years and counting.

That, and the fact that — by far and large — I do good work, or so my clients tell me.

Many of the traits and skills I described are frequently attributed to ADHD, which would bring me to my next point: ADHD doesn’t get to define me. It is a diagnosis and a label. Used wisely, it’s an explanation but never an excuse.

I struggle with some other mental health issues with as well, and none of them are isolated; as I’ve mentioned before, comorbidity plays a significant role. Indeed, before saying goodbye to my last therapist, he told me that in the grand scheme of things, the issues I attribute to ADHD are the minority of my actual problems in my life right now. And I’m pretty sure he is right.

Closing remarks

There are a lot of things I have not touched upon these articles, but I hope it will at least get you thinking. It’s still something that in some ways is still underdiagnosed.

ADHD is not a life sentence; having a diagnosis, a good psychiatrist, a good therapist, a good coach (ideally, all of them) can improve things tremendously.

The origins of ADHD is something that’s still unclear, with many theories going around and consensus on it. It seems that in some way it’s hereditary, but the jury is still very much out on how much of it is nature and how much of it may be nurture. It does run in my family; several family members and some of my siblings have it. I’d be lying if I’d say I’m not worried that some of my kids may grow up with it, too. One of the books I’m recommending below has an interesting theory that very much fits my life story; however that doesn’t mean it’s the definitive answer.

A very important caveat to everything I wrote about, and especially the part on how ADHD feels like to me is heavily colored by the fact that I’m a guy. ADHD for women can and does look very different oftentimes; ADDitude magazine has an article to get you started reading up on it.

I’d be remiss if I wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that, depending on where you live and what your financial situation is, all of the above can be very expensive and a lot of people simply can’t afford that. I know I am in a very privileged position to do so, and it sucks that I don’t have a solution for those who don’t.

I hope you found these posts informative; I’m happy to answer questions in the comments, social media or in private.

Epilogue: a reading list

A while ago, I compiled a list of books that helped me learn about ADHD. Maybe it’ll help you, too.

You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!: The Classic Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder
It is the classic self-help book and an excellent first read to get you into the topic.

Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder
This is an excellent book to follow up the first with if you are not overwhelmed already. It is technically the second book in a series (the first one being Driven to Distraction) but stands on its own.

Your Life Can Be Better: using strategies for Adult ADD/ADHD This is excellent and practical, structured into concise chapters. After you get your dose of theory (and strategies) from the first two books, this gives you a whole lot more that are helpful.

Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It
I believe this is one of the most important books I’ve read about ADHD. It has changed my view on it profoundly, and I consider it a must-read. It has sections on both childhood, and adult ADHD and his two chapters about nurturing your inner child are something I re-read every couple of months.

The book poses the theory that ADHD is a combination of being born with an above-average sensitivity to outside impulses and early childhood trauma, primarily the lack of proper attachment/attunement to the caregiver parent (typically the mother). Again, this fits me; but it may not fit you, and it’s not that mainstream. Then again, mainstream is still pretty scattered — pun not intended — on the origins of ADHD.

Converting My Blog To Hugo and Getting Rid of My VPS

· 955 words · 5 min read

I have a blog (you’re reading it!). It’s got history: I set it up in early 2009, and I have almost 600 posts, mostly in Hungarian. I had one before that, between 2005 and 2008, but it was lost due to a variety of reasons, including my failure to properly back things up. Small bits of it are still up in the Wayback Machine, though. It was all in Wordpress, which does its job, though even in 2019 it can be a pain to update things.

From Wordpress to Jekyll to Hugo

About a week ago I decided it was time to migrate it to Jekyll. I was bored, and it gave me a good excuse to play with a static site generator. Plus, doing this kind of conversion became a rite of passage for people working in tech these days.

This is not a complete guide; you can find hundreds of them with a quick google. I will, however, provide a general overview of the process with some helpful pointers and links.

I started by migrating all the comments to Disqus with their official Wordpress plugin. After that, I used a Jekyll exporter plugin that converted all my posts into markdown… except it stripped all the embeds.

I used to blog a lot about music, so I had a lot of embeds, mostly from Youtube. In retrospect, I could have saved myself some time by patching the exporter or finding another one. In the end, however, I ended up fixing every single post by hand. I replaced old, pre-iframe flash embed codes with updated ones and changed the newer, but still http ones to https. In most places, if the video was not necessary or wasn’t available anymore, I added the song to the post via Spotify. The chances of a given song being up on Spotify in a few years feels marginally higher than on Youtube right now. I had a few other embeds that I could fix with newer code (Soundcloud) and others that I couldn’t (Deezer), but most of the time I could find the given song or playlist within Spotify. All of this had the benefit of walking down on memory lane, reading 10-year old blog posts and cringing a lot. I was so young.

I’ve found a reasonably decent theme for Jekyll, which felt like a good starting point, though it didn’t have built-in support for tags or archives. I started googling how to implement that, and around the same time I was venting about my embed issues on the XOXO slack. That was when David chimed in about his experiences on doing this exact same process, except he ended up using Hugo, another popular static site generator that’s kind of like Jekyll except faster. The theme of his blog had everything I wanted: a fancy archives page and proper support for tags. So I figured I might as well continue my journey: switch to Hugo and use his theme as a basis.

Jekyll is written in Ruby and uses a simple templating language. Hugo’s code is in Go, and it uses Go’s own templates; they definitely have a learning curve, even if you have coded in Go before. With some help, googling and a lot of trial and error, I got the hang of it and managed to change things to my liking as well as the look and the color scheme of the site. I converted most of my posts’ front matter with a script and fixed the rest with a few search-and-replaces. With 8-10 hours of work behind me — half of that was fixing those embeds — I had my new blog ready to be hosted on Github Pages for free. I use a modified version of the sample deploy script they have in Hugo’s documentation.

Getting Rid of My VPS

I had a small VPS at Linode for years now, hosting my pet projects, my blog and a bunch of static sites (like my home page) over the years. It also had OpenVPN installed so I could watch iPlayer for free until BBC started cracking down on that. By now it only had my blog and those static sites; I figured if I could find something for the latter, I could ditch the VPS entirely.

I don’t remember how, but I came across Netlify. They give you free static hosting with extremely generous soft limits (100 gigs of storage, 100 GB/month transfer). You just point them to a Github repository, and about 30 seconds later you have your site ready, with support for multiple custom domains and SSL.

I spent an hour or two moving everything to Netlify, changing the necessary DNS entries and in the end, I was ready to say goodbye to my VPS and save a grand total of $7 a month in the future. I made backups of everything and then, somewhat emotionally pressed the “Delete” button on Linode’s control panel. I wouldn’t be surprised if I would get another one eventually for a side project or something, but for now, I’m happy with my all my stuff hosted around the internet for free and stored in git repos.

On the Future of My Blog

There is a lot more content to come as I started writing regularly. Feel free to subscribe to this blog in your favorite RSS reader.

Hugo gives me a lot of ways to tinker; I am already thinking about replacing the commenting system, adding reading time, word count and so on. I might write something on this in again in the future.

This post was not sponsored by anyone, just in case some of it reads like an ad for Github or Netlify or whatever.

On Wine and Anxiety

· 543 words · 3 min read

I’m sitting in a wine bar and waiting for my friends to arrive to hang out. I spent my free time today working my converting my blog from Wordpress to Hugo — with a detour of Jekyll — and moving my static sites to Netlify so that I can shut down my barely-used VPS. A full write-up about this is coming soon.

I have about 20 minutes before said friends arrive so this will be one of those stream of consciousness posts where I just start writing and see what comes out of it.

For the longest time, I did not like neither beer nor wine. Sure, both are acquired tastes, but I tried plenty (especially beer) and it just never clicked. To this day the only beer I drink is alcohol-free lager since it’s the one that tastes the least like actual beer and it has the advantage of, well, not having alcohol in it. If I wanted to get tipsy or drunk I would go with shots or cocktails. That changed in recent years, though; I finally got a taste of wine, dry red wine, to be exact.

I mentioned a bunch of times already that in 2012 my untreated anxiety disorder got to the point where I started having panic attacks and forced me to seek treatment. One of the side-effects of all this is that my stomach was shot. I had severe discomfort/pain for months; at one point, someone accidentally figured out that the primary cause was high stomach acid and antacid pills help. Slowly, I started recovering. To aid the process and my digestion (in retrospect, maybe my anxiety as well), my old GP, who was somewhat old-school prescribed me a deciliter of red wine, every day, after lunch. It’s not like I had anything to lose, and it’s not enough alcohol to get me tipsy anyway.

So I did that for like two months, and after a few weeks, I started not hating red wine. A few weeks after that, I was a convert. Since then it became my go-to drink of choice.

I don’t know much about wine. “It’s good” or “It sucks” is as far as I can go. I did develop preferences over the years; by far and large, I like a good Merlot or Pinot Noir. Above all, Shiraz (Syrah) wines, mostly from Australia and New Zealand are among my favorites.

When I lived in Sweden, I had the luxury of having a selection of 100s of different wines from at least 20 different countries. See, in Sweden, there is a government monopoly on selling alcohol above 3.5%; you can only buy the serious stuff in state-run alcohol shops. The pros and cons of this system are beyond the scope of this post, but one huge pro was the selection I’ve mentioned above.

I’m back in Hungary now, and though there are stores where you can get import wine, most of the wine here is local. Which is not a bad thing, of course; Hungarian is a wine country, and our wine is renowned for its quality. I do miss being able to pick from all the different countries, though.

My friends started arriving. Time for me to order a glass of Syrah…

On Writing for 31 Days Straight and Counting

· 698 words · 4 min read

Last night I went to bed feeling I might be getting sick, and I woke up most definitely sick. It feels like something in-between a cold and full-blown flu, and I mean, whatever, it’ll pass. What bothers me is the timing: I started working with a personal trainer last week and been to 4 classes so far. Now I’ll have to skip a bunch, and that’s bad when you are building a habit.

I have at least one more post ready in my SF & XOXO 2018 series (to come), but right now I’m struggling to write end edit the ones that come after them. So I’m taking a break today to reflect on writing, and in particular, writing here.

This is my 31st post here, and I have not skipped a single day. I joined the day Owen opened signups. It’s the second longest personal writing streak I have — the first one would be the one I did when I moved to Sweden and blogged about my life daily for the first few months. I’m sure I skipped days here and there, but I wrote a lot during those days.

I used the term personal writing intentionally. Back in 2003, shortly after I started high school, I started working for a tech news site covering mobile devices, phones and PDAs.

(remember PDAs? I was really into them and had several over the years, even smartphones, and this was years before the iPhone. That’s where most of the money I earned went.)

I kept track of what’s up with the tech world and wrote a news article about whatever I’ve found interesting and fit my scope. For the first two years or so I did it for free; after that, I earned roughly 75 cents per news article. I wrote a few features, reviews and interviews as well (can’t remember how much I made from that, but not a lot).

In many ways, it was the dream writing job. I could write about anything I wanted, and the money I earned with it was significant for a 17-year old still living with their parents. I do feel somewhat ripped off financially in retrospect, though.

I stopped working for the site not long before I finished high school — I sort of lost interest. I think it had run its course.

Some habits do stay with me to this day from that era. Keeping up with the news is one of the reasons I got addicted to RSS and Google Reader. I read The Verge’s and Ars Technica’s feed religiously to this day, even though it is no longer necessary and I skip reading like 95% of it.

All of the writing I mentioned above has been in Hungarian, though. This is the first time I am writing a significant amount in English, a language that’s not my mother tongue. Now, I pride myself having a good grasp on the English language, and have been fluent in it since I was 15 or so. I don’t even have the stereotypical Hungarian accent; it sounds like generic American English to most ears. When I lived in Sweden, I spoke English 90% of the time. I can and still do think in English a lot. When I’m alone and am talking to myself, that’s often in English as well.

And yet, writing is a different beast entirely. I don’t think I’m bad at it, but I’m conscious of the fact that I’m not great either, and have a lot to learn. I run everything I write through Grammarly and Hemingway, and they help, but they’re not silver bullets. I started reading On Writing Well (thanks, Owen), since nonfiction writing is my thing. And posting here at least 300 words every day itself helps a lot.

So here I am, 31 days later; a month done, who knows how many to go. And I enjoy it a lot, even though I have no metrics on how many people are reading these posts of mine (I like having an audience and will not apologize for that). For now, I’ll go back to editing and rewriting my series. I have work to do.

Cult of Done

· 339 words · 2 min read

I was planning to finish my post about ADHD today, but poor time management and unexpected troubles at work got in the way, so this is one of those posts that I’ll just start writing, and the words will come because they usually do. That’s all I have time for today.

I have to say I am unusually proud of myself about yesterday’s post. I had something written already the day before yesterday, but I wasn’t too happy with that; it was long and disorganized and lacked structure. I took a break, and the next day I started looking at it with fresh eyes. I started editing it, stumbled upon a good article in my research that provided me with an idea for structuring those 34 or so paragraphs. A journalist friend helpfully pointed out that adding subheadings helps to break the text up. I cleaned up a few things in the post with the help of Grammarly and Hemingway.

Two hours or so later, I had something ready to publish. I could have written twice as much, given the time, but I would have had an even harder time structuring that, and it felt way too long already. I also didn’t want to break my streak, which meant I had to publish it that day. So I decided I got to a point where I was reasonably and pressed “Publish” (and then quickly fixed five more things I discovered after that).

I’ve re-read the Cult of Done Manifesto and to be honest, I don’t agree with many of its points, but at least one of them I find very, very true:

Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.

I feel like the constraints WriteTogether gives you help you get writing done. You don’t have any excuses: at least 300 words, each day, or you lose your streak. It’s harsh, it could use some refinement (and likely will), but for now, I like it.

See you tomorrow, hopefully with Part 3 of my series done.

Re: Goals

· 604 words · 3 min read

Yesterday I read Owen’s “Goals” post and at first, I thought I don’t have any, but then I started writing them down and turns out I do! Without further ado, a list, well, many lists.

Short term / immediate / ongoing goals:

  • Keep writing 300 words a day (duh)
  • Find another steady freelance gig that’s roughly 10-20 hours a week. I have a few leads, and I already have a long-term client with about 20 billed hours per week
  • Keep working with my personal trainer, thrice a week for an hour, which I literally just started (as in, today)
  • Somehow start losing weight. For that, I need to change what and how I eat and I don’t yet know how I’ll manage to do that
  • Keep drawing, at least once a week, ideally more
  • Fix my sleep schedule which is pretty fucked up right now
  • In general, keep up with my todo list (eternal goal, really)
  • Keep dating
  • Be more social/active in general
  • Cook more

In 3 months, I want to:

  • Lose at least 2 kilos
  • Have some idea on how I’ll get my eating habits in order (we’re setting realistic goals here, people)
  • Get my sleep schedule in order
  • Have that new freelance gig worked out
  • Have been on at least another date (again, realistic goals)
  • Have started working on the [oral history article I wrote about]()
  • Have held at least another dinner party
  • Be still writing 300 words a day, still drawing at least once a week, still working out thrice a week (this goal never ends)

In 6 months, I want to:

  • Lose at least 5kg
  • Have started getting my eating habits in order
  • Consider doing therapy again. I’m on a break right now, but if I think I need more time, I’ll give it another 6 months
  • Have been on at least 3 more dates
  • At least halfway done with that oral history article
  • Have held at least 2 more dinner parties
  • Still writing, still draw, still work out, etc.

In a year, I want to:

  • Lose at least 10kg (stretch goal: anything above that, really)
  • Have my eating habits somewhat in order
  • Restart therapy with a plan of stopping certain anti-anxiety medications
  • Get my cholesterol back to normal levels (if not I’ll likely have to start medication)
  • Have $REDACTED in savings
  • Published that oral history article
  • Re-evaluate my life concerning where I live, and see how much longer do I want to stay in Hungary and also the work I do
  • Be in a relationship (yes I know this is not how this works, but one can dream)
  • Be in some sort of leadership role in my church
  • Hold dinner parties at least once a month
  • Write, draw, work out, etc.

In 3 years, I want to:

  • Lose 30kg (which is my target goal)
  • Have healthy eating habits
  • More money saved, obviously (as a freelancer it’s hard to plan for even a year, three years feels impossible)
  • Have stopped taking said medications above
  • Be married (we’re thinking big!)
  • Have my living situation figured out, possibly left Hungary or it’s on the horizon
  • Do dinner parties/write/draw/work out, you know the drill

In 5 years, I want to:

  • Not live in Hungary
  • Have my weight still under 100kg
  • Still have healthy eating habits
  • Maybe buy a house?
  • Have a solid grasp on where my career is going, by this time I’ll be 35 after all
  • Have a kid
  • Eh who knows about habits when you have a kid, but at least keep working out

Okay, I could go on, but I think this is a good start. Keep me accountable, please?

On Giving Free Hugs

· 621 words · 3 min read

A bit more than a year ago, a couple weeks before Christmas an event popped up on my Facebook timeline. “Free Hugs in Budapest”, it said. Intrigued, I clicked on the “Interested” button, the universal bookmarking feature. I didn’t think much of it afterward, but a few days later a photographer friend visiting from Sweden contacted me and asked if I’m planning to attend. So we ended up going together, our cameras in hand, to take a few pictures; seemed like an interesting enough topic. I ended up bringing a wrong camera (hint: don’t bring your old mirrorless camera that has shitty autofocus for fast-moving subjects) but did get a few good shots.

Besides being a good subject for photography, the idea appealed to me: a bunch of people at one of Budapest’s busiest square, filled with tourists, giving out free hugs for an hour once a month on a Sunday afternoon. That’s all there is to it, really.

I was intrigued, so I went for the next two events as well—learning from my mistakes, I took my trusty DSLR—and took more pictures. After three times, though, I was itching to put down the camera, take the leap and start giving out free hugs myself. So I did.

Since then I’ve been to almost all the events and became one of the very few regular volunteers. I enjoy it a lot: I like giving hugs, but it’s not something you do too often in Hungary. And there is something pure and deeply satisfying in standing there for an hour, sign in your hand, waiting for strangers to walk up to you for a hug. It’s an opportunity to have a momentary connection with a lot of people and to—excuse the cheese—spread some love in the world. We only have one rule, one we take seriously: we offer the hugs, never force them on people. For me it’s like going to Church; I do that too, but this, this is also Church, a gathering of people for a common cause, to make the world just a little bit better.

The Free Hugs Campaign was started in 2004 by an Australian guy, though I’d bet he wasn’t the first one to do this since it’s hardly a unique idea. The phenomenon has spread all over the world ever since, and by far and large is an entirely grassroots movement, unaffiliated with organizations or religions.

In Budapest, we don’t even have a Facebook page or anything; it’s organized by one person who creates the event every month, invites everyone he can, and then it spreads organically. Sometimes we have as many as 20 volunteers giving out hugs; other times, only 4; it’s somewhat unpredictable. On occasion, people would walk by, and like the idea so much they’d spontaneously join in.

As I’ve written in the intro, the event is held at a touristy area of Budapest; by my estimations, about 85-90% of people we hug are not Hungarians. That can partly be explained by the location, but I myself attribute it to this country’s sometimes unwelcome, suspicious or cynical attitude towards these things. A surprising number of times people would walk by, and I heard them say some variation of “oh, yeah, they’re just gonna pickpocket you” in Hungarian.

I’m not saying this is for everyone. Some people simply don’t like hugs, are uncomfortable with physical touch, or worse, have past traumas connected to it. And it requires you to really put yourself out there, and be at least somewhat vulnerable.

But if you have one in your city, and this sounds intriguing to you, I highly encourage you to try it. It’s a good way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon.

The As-Of-Yet-Unwritten Oral History of Turulcsirip, an Early Twitter Client and Community

· 557 words · 3 min read

I have an ambitious idea: I want to write a longform article, an oral history of an early Twitter client/community called Turulcsirip (wikipedia link with Google Translate).

The story starts simple enough: in early 2007, a Hungarian guy called Benedek Toth has written a Twitter client called Turulcsirip. But it wasn’t your average client as there were several things that made it special.

While I registered an account on Twitter sometime in 2007, I haven’t started tweeting until early 2008. I knew no-one, just followed a few internet-famous people and early adopters of the platform (remember Hugh MacLeod aka GapingVoid?). I tweeted about things people tweeted about in those days: random things, saying good morning, work stuff.

Only a few days later I tweeted out something about ExtJS and someone Hungarian guy replied to it. I was baffled. How? They didn’t even seem to be following me. And how did they find me anyway?

Turns out they were using Turulcsirip. I don’t know all the details, but through the API it watched all tweets and with some fairly basic NLP it found people tweeting in Hungarian and automatically pulled them into the system and displayed their tweets on a public timeline.

See, Turulcsirip had three views. One, you could see whatever your followers are tweeting, the basic view. But two, you had a slider where you could start to see your followers’ followers’ tweets mixed into your timeline. And it had a third view where you would see everyone on the platform, which mean pretty much every Hungarian tweeting back then. It was a great way to discover new people, and in 2008, that timeline wasn’t that busy, and if you found someone annoying or uninteresting, you could hide their tweets with a click or two. Turulcsirip even had a Firefox extension so you could have it in your sidebar, autoscrolling.

Through the app, I instantly became part of a community and in the next two years or so I made a lot of internet friends, many of whom became real-life friends. It was a great community, with barely any drama or politics (by today’s standards, anyway). We also had a lot of twitter meetups, hanging out in pubs with semi-strangers you only knew from the internet before. You could see the bubbles: Tech People Twitter, People Selling Infoproducts Twitter, Teen Twitter and so on, bubbles that didn’t really interact with each other. It was and still is fascinating.

There are so many stories, from meetups, through competitors to its eventual demise in 2012. Friendships, relationships and marriages started there. There was the time when, in order to make Twitter more popular in Hungary, three people held a contest to get either 2009 or the most followers by a certain date, a number that sounds downright amusing these days (the winner only got to 1299). I could go on.

And I want to go on: this is the extremely abridged version of the story. I have a mental list of about a dozen people to interview for this to happen, and I may even have the time for it. I’m not a journalist—though I used to be, a long time ago—but this is something I definitely want to write because I believe it’s such an important and unique part of the history of Early Twitter.

Stay tuned.

Writer, Unblocked

· 300 words · 2 min read

I have no idea what to write today but I will start, and I am sure words will come.

I have a couple of topics floating in my head for longer stories. One is obviously continuing my memoir about my time in Sweden but I’ve hit a snag there: I got to the part where I arrived in Sweden, and now there are a couple of months where I am unsure what I should write about. It’ll come, though.

I have another thing to write about: the story of Turulcsirip, an early Hungarian Twitter community that was quite unique at the time. Part of me wants to make a real article of it, an oral history: interview the guy who created it, the earliest users, and so on. But I’m not sure if that’s a good fit for this platform. I can tell this story from just my perspective, and that would give you a somewhat good image of it as well, so I might just do that.

I am not yet sure if I want to write mostly multi-part stories (that you have to plan at least somewhat in advance) or more one-off things. For some reason, the former sounds easier for me, because if I just sit down to write something, I draw a blank. But that’s something I want to improve as well.

Then again, I don’t want to write just for writing’s sake, only to have my streak, like I am doing right now. I want to write meaningful things, things people enjoy and find engaging. I feel like I have a lot of stories to tell; there is enough material. Now I just have to do the writing itself.

This whole post is just a shameless thing to get my streak, look, 300 words exactly.

Birthday Party as a Social Experiment

· 317 words · 2 min read

I want to preface this that everything I write here may leave you scratching your head thinking “this is not unusual at all”. But it is for me.

I, like most people belong to different groups of friends, that function as bubbles. I have my online friends, my church friends, my friends from drawing class, my friends with whom I do free hugs every month and so on. And by far and large, these groups do not interact with each other at all, and that’s partly on me. For whatever reason that I still need to work out with a therapist, I (sub)consciously keep these groups separate.

I think that is at least partly because I behave in slightly different ways, show different parts of myself to these different groups. Again, this mostly normal, and a ton of people do this, but I also know people who, by far and large don’t do this, and furthermore they have no trouble whatsoever with their bubbles meeting – for them, they are not even bubbles.

Therefore a couple of years ago I decided to turn my birthday party into a social experiment: invite everyone from everywhere into one big party, and just see what happens. It was legitimately scary for me because, in that setting, I have to be myself, my real self, I can’t do much pretending.

I am happy I did that because it was a huge success. I had about a dozen people from 3 or 4 different groups, and it was great to see them get to know each other.

This Saturday I’m having a party again, with an even more diverse group. It’s still scary, but now it’s exciting as well. I’m cooking some Mexican food, because as cliche as it is, food brings people together.

You’re all invited as long as you can make it to Hungary by 7 pm this Saturday. :)