Surviving the doctorate

I handed in the doctoral thesis today! It was really difficult to let it go. Seven years of procrastination with about two years of hard slog at the end of it. I am tired but I made it. Before I carry on I must express my gratitude to all the people who helped me along the way. I named a few of you in my acknowledgement section but I may have forgotten some, so if I did forget, I am sorry, please forgive me, thank you. I love you all heaps.

The photo above was written a few weeks before I was due to submit. It was less about what I had left to do and more about how I was going to finish. I did not want to put myself in hospital through overdoing it. I had to really look after myself and made a plan, a S.M.A.R.T. plan. Mine looked a bit different from the usual.

Ruth's goals

S is for Self-care. Two years ago I had chest pains that started out as tingling up my arm. I took myself to the emergency room in a cab. I packed a bag while I waited with the door open and rang a friend in case I became unconscious. I knew it was not a heart attack or I probably would not be writing this now. I talked to the social worker in the hospital and a kaumatua did a prayer for me. I cried my eyes out. Abigail came to sit with me while we waited for the doctor to assess me and I cried to her too. My daughter and mokos came to pick me up the next day after I spent the night under observation. I was discharged but I was aware that I needed to make major changes to my lifestyle.

M is for Meditation and Mandatory for me. I paid a lot of money to learn transcendental meditation and it was really life-saving. My anxiety and depression disappeared. I started to realise how much goes on in my head that I am unaware of. When I meditated, noises were amplified, the bees and insects in the bush near my place sounded so loud. The trees rustled. The creek running over rocks and the wind blowing through the trees. With all that going on I also had a full-on discussion going on in my brain. I was sorting out issues and I was continually planning things and thinking about what I wanted to do. Busy, busy, busy. Meditation gave me a sense of peace and tranquillity. After a while it got easier to tune out the inner chat and merge with my surroundings. I got my OHM on.

A is Avoid sugar. The health scare made me reassess my lifestyle and the way I was beating myself up on a daily basis. I did take walks in the park and try to eat healthy but then I would binge on chocolates and biscuits and that is no good for a diabetic who was not keeping track of meds or checking my blood sugar daily. I decided to try going cold turkey and it was tough going. I went shopping at the diabetic shop and got a lot of sugar free, laxative causing lollies. Bad move. I was not winning with the ‘diabetes club’ advice. I had just started a new job and had a decent income. I decided to invest it on myself.

A is for Alison, a reiki practitioner who I met not long after I had the anxiety attack. She was offering massage therapy at the local drop in community centre; Our Place. I saw her regularly and bought a few of the Doterra essential oils. I still use them but I have not seen Ali in a while. Full body massage is highly recommended as it helps release toxins and emotional baggage.

A is for Abigail McClutchie my study buddy and Pomodoro queen. Abi introduced me to Isagenix. I bought a starter pack and went on a diet. I talked to a nutritionist with a holistic practice and I met personal trainer and signed up for three months training. I lost 7kg and I was getting definition and tone. I was so happy then I went to see the doctor to get my bloods checked. My numbers were all good so I asked to reduce my doses and he refused. He did not think I had the will to stick to the plan. I am stubborn so whenever someone tells me I cannot do something. I tell them where to go and so I sacked the doctor. I had recently moved back to Avondale and went back to my old GP, a woman who happily reduced all my meds and congratulated me for losing weight and getting healthy.

R is for Routines. I had to have a routine. Evidently, I don’t know how to stop working so I made sure that I included some fun time in the schedule. I am not good at watching bits of paper to remind what I need to do and I am not that good at synching calendars or clocks so I decided to make a vision board and mind map with my other goals in them and keep it where I could see it. Meditation was first thing in the morning before breakfast. Then I worked for two or three hours until lunchtime. Alternate days I worked out, came home for a mid-morning snack, shower and started work.

Friends would occasionally pop around if they were in the neighbourhood. Most of the time I was happy for a bit of company and a good coffee. I did not stick to the routine rigidly as I needed a social life too. I do not think it is healthy to isolate yourself and avoid people just to be productive. R&R is good too.

T is for Take a nap or a walk. If I was tired I stayed in bed until I was ready to get up. If I needed an afternoon nap I just lay down on the couch and crashed out. I kept the alert on my phone on mute so no interruptions, no texts or calls. I left it on the desk well away from me while asleep. I have no time preference for work. I work when my brain is functioning and if I have had enough sleep. I made sure to get a brisk walk every day. I love baths and salt baths helped me manage aches and pains. I used the aromatherapy oils.

So this was my survival plan. It does require resources but can be done on a budget too as I have found out since leaving my job to finish the thesis. My flatmate Francie has a swiss ball, a small bench and some weights. I do a quick workout during my five minute breaks. Pomodoro is a study technique using a timer. It is the best way to get concentrated blocks of work done. I belong to the Remote Pomodoro wānanga-ā-ipurangi (online Pomodoro) that was started by Abigail McClutchie. Check out her blog on here about it.

I still got stressed during tough times. I had job changes, house changes, and a few other little dramas but I have been determined not to lose the hard-earned gains. My constant source of motivation are my grandsons and I miss them a lot as they moved away with their awesome parents to start a new adventure in Taupo. One last thing is to journal and have an attitude of gratitude. I bought a new notebook today and wrote ten things I am grateful for. Peace be the journey.


  1. Congrats for your kaha, self-belief and persistence Dr Herd! Phone call yesterday from Waikato Uni Print “…guess what we have waiting here for you, your hardbound thesis is ready for you to collect and submit!”. Monday, that sucker is going to postgrad studies and then the library…take that Waitangi Day xxx.


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