My PhD Journal – month one

So here I am, an official PhD student.

Undoubtedly the commencement of study has forced me to reflect on the past twelve months and the events that led to this moment. The combined effect of the devastation of my travel business due to an unforeseen pandemic and a mental health emergency that knocked me off my feet for several months, fractured my sense of identity and purpose.

Originally I had planned to complete a research masters in Travel Writing, which I’d hoped would complement my travel business. With the loss of my business, I also lost the ability to pay for the course which I was self-funding, so I had to withdraw. However, after discussion with my supervisor in the Autumn of 2020, I decided to apply for PhD research with the costs covered by a student loan; I was accepted and my purpose restored!

I am interested in trauma travel. A genre that I believe encompasses the journey (a secular pilgrimage) that some people take in response to experiencing a traumatic event, in the hope it will be a healing experience. I am also interested in the idea of travel writing as a form of testimony, where those who have suffered trauma and have undertaken a secular pilgrimage in response, go on to write about both their travel and their trauma.

I have found anecdotal evidence that supports the theory that both secular pilgrimage and writing about traumatic experience, as two separate endeavours, have mental and physical benefit to those who suffer the after-effects of trauma. Would it therefore stand, that the combination of secular pilgrimage and travel writing is of therapeutic benefit and an alternative to spoken therapy?

As someone who experienced childhood trauma and who suffers mental and physical effects as a result, I have chosen to undertake my own secular pilgrimage and to write about it for my research. I have identified a destination which has emotional value and in later blogs I will discuss my reasoning for this.

Initially I assumed I would analyse examples of trauma travel writing for my research, perhaps a thematic analysis or another qualitative method of providing ‘proof’ of my theory, to give it credibility. I thought that my travel writing would be secondary to this and it took a while to understand that actually, my writing would be the research.

For the past few days I have been studying ‘practice-led research’ and ‘autoethnography’. I feel a sense of fear. Is this normal? I feel like I’m in a room, looking for the person in charge, only for the icy realisation to creep over me that I am that person.

I have been too terrified to write. I read a BBC article in which autoethnography was denounced as ‘academic narcissism’ and derogatorily labelled ‘mesearch’. The time I usually spend in bed at night physically contorting over memories of embarrassing myself, or fending off intrusive thoughts, is now reserved for swirling lines of creativity that I can’t commit to paper.

Hopefully by writing this journal entry, I have eased the writer’s block that has plagued my first month. Perhaps there should be a University sharing circle for the self-doubting autoethnographers!

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