I've just picked up my PhD thesis from the book-binders and at last feel the relief of completing my PhD. The route I took, PhD by Publication, is an unusual one. It's been an intensive reflective doctoral journey which I seem to be emerging from with surprisingly few war wounds, despite the months spent writing and reading in isolation.
I knew that I would need to take care of my well being in order to get through. Here are some of the strategies that helped..
I've used voice work and somatic practice as research methods, but these practices have also had an important role in maintaining my well being whilst writing. Not only have they kept me physically active, but also emotionally grounded in the present during a time when I've been carrying out deeply reflective work. I have been going up to the Linklater Voice Centre in Orkney to attend voice courses with Kristin Linklater several times a year since 2015 . The psychophysical approach to voice combined with the Orkney air and raw wild nature means I always return replenished and healthier, my voice ringing truer with each trip.
Nearer to home I practice Mysore yoga with the fantastic teacher Jess Glenny. I first starting going to restorative yoga classes run by Jess during a year in which I experienced two family bereavements and was very much in need of gentle therapeutic movement. I now attend many of the classes Jess runs including Open Floor Dance - the practice and the people I have met through it have been a an incredible support throughout the writing process. Alongside voice, yoga and dance, there's been Alexander Technique classes with Ann Baeppler. I've been seeing Ann (whose practice is in Ipswich) for over a decade, and it's become a kind of pilgrimage for me. I find her a wise and intuitive teacher, it was Ann that suggested that with these psychophysical approaches I was 'reading the knowledge' inscribed in my body - something that went on to be a key part of the methodology of the PhD. Walking has also been important, if i've not been able to spare the time to do all of the above, I've walked in the morning before writing or at lunchtime.
2. Environment and ergonomics
Everyone has different needs when they write, I have needed to write in a quiet space with a window. Libraries and offices, music in the background have not been an option. So I wrote at home making sure I could see out of the window.
I also invested in a colour changing aromatherapy diffuser, which imbued the room with different delicious aromas. Neal's Yard do a range of blended aromatherapy oils - I found the ones labelled 'focus' 'womens balance' and 'optimism' very pleasing!
My second investment was a screen that could be used vertically, this meant that I could easily see the whole page.
I very soon realised that nights out weren't going to be an option. The mental exhaustion from writing and thinking and reading was immense, I also found I could barely talk by the end of the day. So I curtailed social activities. (I probably wasn't very interesting to talk to anyway during this time), But I also realised that I needed to keep up a few nurturing activities - collaborative composing with Danny Keane reminded me of who I am during a time I was doing something really unfamiliar to me.
Education - when it goes well - is transformational, and it feels like doing this PhD I've been through a tunnel, emerging the other side, I can see the landscape has shifted whilst my energies have focussed on this mammoth task. I feel stronger for it, although things have changed, evolved, emerged - such is life - such is growth.