Things I Learnt from my Online Depression Course

Screen shot 2015-01-07 at 3.53.47 PM


So, I did it! Alongside commuting to London every day, I spent 7 weeks at the end of last year taking an online course about depression through Coursera lets you take university modules for free in LOADS (and I really mean LOADS) of different subjects. Mine was from the US, but you can also study from Russian, Chinese, German…all kinds of universities.

Why did I decide to do this? I have a number of people in my life who suffer with depression. Having depression sucks, but also having a loved one with depression sucks (arguably) just as much, so in an effort to help, I decided to learn a little more. If I can train to be a depression counsellor, that would be great. But that’s both very time consuming and also very expensive so that’s not on my horizon just yet.

I learnt so much on the course, and it was really full-on, especially alongside a full-time job. But these are the things that really stood out in my mind as I studied:


Depression and Diabetes are Linked

There is a strong link between depression and diabetes, with each one potentially causing the other.

“The women on antidepressant medications had a 25% higher risk of developing diabetes compared to those without depression.” Source 

There isn’t enough known at this point into how they affect each other, but this is just one more sad item to add to the list of dangers when a person falls into depression (others being loss/gain in weight, stomach issues, suicide and many more).


A Good Lifestyle Can Help

There are some things that can really help fight depression – two of which are a healthy diet and lots of walking. Fitness in general is good for someone suffering with depression, but walks can help clear the mind of clutter, fighting the depression demons.


Different Cultures see Depression Differently

One of the most interesting things I learnt was how different people view depression.

There was a study of African cultures wherein they monitored people with depression. So, they went to all these different groups of people and said “can you show us a few people who have depression?” And the people said “oh depression! You mean tummy aches!” and then some other people said “depression? Oh, person-weakness!” and “ah! Sleepless disease!” They didn’t see depression as the same thing that we see it as – as something that makes you very sad, but as something with different symptoms. Which makes sense, as depression is such a multi-faceted disease.

This is a very long study that looks into all kinds of things like this.


The biggest Cause of Depression is…


If something really crap happened in your life – a death, stress, a breakup, whatever – who would you talk with? If you have someone in mind that you know you could go talk to and they would listen then you are good. If you could not think of someone who you would go to talk to, then you are at risk.

Friends are important, we all know that. But making sure you have someone to speak with regularly about things, and especially someone to turn to when things are a bit crap is vital to your mental wellbeing.

What can you do if you don’t have a close friend? I know as well as anyone that making friends is bloody hard work, but it’s worth it in the end. Go out there, join, go out and find people you like and work to build friendships. If you have people around you that you like but aren’t that close to, then invite them out, or even invite them round. Cook them a meal. Go see a film. I’m absolutely serious because people having close friends is the single most important thing in fighting depression.


So that’s the end of my rant (haha…)

I can highly recommend the course and can’t wait to learn something else on Coursera. If you could study one thing, what would you study?


How to Work in a Japanese Office


Learn to behave or feel the pinch!

As promised, I have for you a post on how to survive in a Japanese office, should any of you be as unfortunate enough to work in one. My current Japanese office is very unJapanese, and has hardly any of the following rule in place. However, my last place was very much like all the things you are about to read.

These are all cultural tips I’ve collected after having worked in Japan, and then in Japanese companies outside of Japan. Sometimes companies make these little booklets on how to work with the Japanese, which I find hilarious because they are often very wrong.

Age over talent

Looking to climb the ladder, so you’re putting in extra effort to wow your boss? Save your energy, because your sparkling talent won’t get you that promotion; putting years into your company and growing through the ranks is how Japanese companies work.

While this is meant to show dedication to your company, it often means that useless people sail up through the company without being any good at what they do. I’ve certainly known some 60 year old Japanese men who seem to be doing pretty much nothing (more on that later!)

Don’t break the wa

Whatever you do, don’t break the 和 – the wa, meaning peace. This isn’t regular peace, like flowers down the barrel of a gun or opposing war. This is all about not sticking out and trying to be different in your Japanese surroundings. If there’s something you don’t like, do you complain about it? NOPE! Get your head back down and carry on paper pushing, you crazy westerner! It doesn’t matter if you see corporate mistakes on a ridiculous scale, bad things will happen if you try to act out.

You should be harmonious with the rest of your team, and your company at all times. You should not disagree or try to do something different.

A friend of mine met me hungover in a cafe in Frankfurt sometime last year. I asked if he was OK, and he told me he’d been a victim of “aru-hara”. “You know ‘seku-hara’; the Japanese term for sexual harassment? Well ‘aru-hara’ is alcohol harassment”, he explained. His boss had started to be really mean and spiteful to him when he said he wanted to stop drinking after just a few beers, until my friend had succumbed and drank more than what he was capable of. This is a common thing in companies, and I’ve heard stories from foreign friends in Japan as well of them being encouraged to drink so much that they just tell their colleagues they have an allergy.

Don’t break the wa.

Look Busy All the Time

This was something I noticed while working in Japan – a lot of the time my colleagues just looked busy, but were in reality doing very little. Then, once home-time came, they actually started doing their work – stacking up the overtime hours.

They’re not trying to gain extra money from overtime work – they don’t get paid overtime. They’re trying to prove to the boss that they are going the extra mile, even though the race could have been finished at 5pm.

Another great outcome of Japanese people trying to look busy at work is the “Japanese office run”. You know the kind of run where you’re actually walking, but putting as much upper-body effort into it so to make you look like you’re properly running? Yeah, you can often see that done by Japanese people. Again, I don’t get this so much in the current office; we’re much more chilled and I think it’s probably more likely that I’m the one doing the Japanese office run…

Get Some Proper Polite Japanese

Think you can speak Japanese? Nah, not until you’ve been in a Japanese office, can you know what it’s like to feel the brain burn of Japanese. Pretty much everything you say has to be said in totally new ways, depending on how high above you the person you’re speaking to is. The difference is similar to:

“Yo, morning, dawg”

“Good morning!”

“I wish you a pleasant morning”

“I humbly wish you the most wonderful morning and if it so happens that your morning is not full of sunshine, rainbows and fluffy bunnies, I will offer my life to the gods so that you can forever more enjoy mornings knowing that my blood has been spilled”.

No matter what your level, try to get some polite Japanese phrases down, because they’re always good to impress. For example, before you leave the office, it’s common to say “oh saki-ni shi-tsu-re shimasu” which vaguely translates as “I am so rude as to leave before you, please forgive me”. Yeah, tell me about it. But it’s a good phrase to use, and whipping that out for your Japanese colleagues will always impress.


I didn’t expect to be so completely negative with my Japanese office tips – though I guess after my experiences, it’s not surprising. Working in a Japanese working environment can be tough and strict and seemingly without fun, but I enjoy working with Japanese people very much (unless they are old smelly Japanese bosses who need to get with the times), and I do love my current Japanese office and colleagues very much. Last week I found an area of the building I’d not been to before and found a library area with Japanese and English business books. There was a book in Japanese called “Japanese Companies are Pretty Weird”, which I thought was hilarious.

If you’ve ever experienced a Japanese office, I’d love to hear from you!



How to Teach English on Skype

#teach #esl #teachonskype #skype #tesol

While I was job hunting I kept myself financially afloat by teaching English on Skype. The reason being that it’s free to do, super easy, and if you work hard at it, you can get quite a good amount of dosh from it! I even know people who have Skype teaching as their main source of income! So, how does it work?

Choose a website

If you go onto freelance websites you will find lots of companies who will offer to give you teaching work on Skype. I use Verbal Planet because it is completely free to use, and the fee to use the site comes from the student side. It’s not that much and not a strain on the student.

Setting your price and writing your profile

My advice would be to set a low price to start with. I began with $10 per 45 min lesson, which is actually ridiculously cheap. As you get more reviews coming in, visitors to your profile will see how much of a great teacher you are, and then you can slowly up your price.

Your profile is also very important. If you have TESOL qualifications, list them, along with any teaching experience. If you have no experience, then list things you are confident in (for example, would you like to teach literature?) Students also like to know what kind of teaching style you have. There are some people who claim to have “the secret to language learning” and teach in a very Michel Thomas/Rosetta Stone style. Others like to focus on grammar and will run through drills with their students.

What I like to do is work through online articles. This way, I can correct their pronunciation and maybe edit their accent a little (most language learners want to get rid of their accents!) Then I work through the vocabulary and end the lesson with a discussion. I find this covers so many areas in the short 45 minute lesson.

Wait…and wait…

This is the hardest part. You need to sit there and wait for the little fishies to bite. For me it took about 2 weeks (so make sure you have something to do in that time!) Once you get one student, and they write you reviews, they’ll all come flooding in and you won’t be able to fit them all in.

Free Trial Lesson

I find that by offering the first lesson for free, you attract more students, and also you get a nice relaxed first lesson where you don’t need to plan anything – you can just chat with the student and get to know their level and needs.

Gather resources

As I mentioned, I work mainly through online articles. It’s real life English (as opposed to textbook English) so it’s great for the students and, as long as you pick the right level of difficulty for the student, articles make for great virtual classroom material. I use news sites like The Guardian, as well as Time Magazine articles and also things from The Fast Company, depending on what kind of thing the student is into. BBC News is good for lower level students because they tend to have shorter posts with slightly easier vocabulary. American sites tend to use more colloquial language, so you can get some great phrases there to teach.

Be culturally aware

One thing you have to be careful of when you’re teaching is cultural awareness. Have some idea about the situation in the country the student is from, because you don’t want to cause them upset when they are trying to learn from you. I made a mistake of asking my Libyan student what she considered “happiness” to be, and this started her off talking about the war in her country. I don’t like to talk about politics and so on in my lessons unless the student asks it. My Russian student is very open minded, and likes to talk about lots of different things. We had a great conversation at the weekend about an article from The Guardian that showed photos of dorm rooms in a Russian university. I said that the article was like propaganda because it wanted to portray Russia as being cold and mean to suit political interests, and she talked a lot about the kinds of propaganda media they have there in Russia.

Have you ever taught – or have been taught – on Skype before?

About My Emotionally Abusive Relationship


For years I have kept this post in the blogging bank section of my brain. I’ve always wanted to write about this experience but have never really thought that I had enough distance from it all to be able to post something like this. After my friend Kate posted something similar, I thought I’d take the leap and finally write this up.

I fell pretty much as soon as I met him. Though we were completely different, in age, looks, background, I found his charm irresistible. He was a person who had done things with his life, who had really interesting interests, who knew things I didn’t know and would tell me with great passion about everything. [Read more…]

%d bloggers like this: