How I Survived Workplace Burnout

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”


I began to suffer from workplace burnout about 10 years into my career as a dental hygienist. I spent much of my time in-between patients hiding in the dark room writing poetry. It was a place where I sought solace in the middle of chaos.

Words have always comforted me and it is why I adore inspirational quotes. During challenging times, inspirational words remind me that the moment is only temporary.

My dental office was very tiny and everyone was just about on top of everyone and privacy was at a premium. Either you left the building and went to your car or you spent quiet time in the dark room.

The characters in this dental office were… interesting. The dentist was…confident. The front desk lady drank diet soda all day and smoked like a chimney and was actually the person I got closest to, she was a cool lady.

The assistant was rather geeky and clumsy. She had a habit of eating her lunch in the dark room, often laying her food right onto the counter where hand-dipped radiographs were processed. Perhaps she sought solace in the dark room as well.

My patients kept me grounded and amused, and some, they warmed my heart. When my sweet elderly patient, Polly, died from breast cancer I couldn’t stop crying. I wrote poems about her in the dark room.

I had one patient who came in with one tooth, number 9. It was being held in by a few periodontal ligaments. It took me 45 minutes to clean that tooth. I had to hold it in place to keep it still so I could scale it. The tooth was waving in the wind as he reminded me, “That’s my only tooth. Don’t pull it out!”

Then there was the new patient who came in. She was overweight as she squeezed into my chair. When I went to lay her back somehow she fell out and became wedged between the wall and the chair.

She was real quiet after that and we never saw her again.

I was working 3 days a week at that office and I really did not like my life. I felt my soul was dying. I was not happy. My back was hurting, I was stressed from being told to simply “Clean their teeth real quick” when a patient arrived 25 minutes late for their 40 minute appointment.

One day when I came into work my boss asked to see me in his office. I think his office was at one time a bathroom or a closet. Not sure but it was small. He was flossing his teeth while gave me the news:

“I am going to need you to pick up two more additional days of hygiene and one of those days you will be working a 12 hour shift.”

He was telling me this while he wrapped floss around his gigantic fingers and flossed his teeth…like a boss. The man had paws on him like a bear. How dare patients tell me that they couldn’t floss their teeth because they couldn’t fit their fingers in their mouth, this man did tedious root canals, on molars, with his ginormous hands!

I promptly told him that he would have to find someone else to work those two days. He put his feet up on his desk, put his hands behind his head and smiled and said, “I will!”

That was the day I quit/got fired.

Thankfully, I have always had many interests and one of them is health. I studied through Coach U, Trinity College of Natural Health and Dr. Sear’s Health and Wellness Institute, eventually becoming a Certified health coach and fitness trainer.

I became a health coach and fitness trainer in part to help keep me healthy and in part to help others.

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh

The process of learning how to be a coach is getting a coach, which I did, and it was an eye opening experience. I was able to see things from a different view point. My coach gave me homework, all of which centered around me. Who doesn’t like to learn about themselves?

I discovered my strengths and weaknesses and after identifying them I was able to work on them. The process was cathartic for me and I loved it.

My studies included teaching healthy workshops and making healthier food choices for people on the go. I embraced this knowledge and in doing so became healthy inside and out.

I have now been a dental hygienist for 24 years and have never been happier. I found my place in dental hygiene. I spend many hours in my bright and sunny apartment writing about my experiences as a dental hygienist. Perhaps I can help someone who may be suffering from workplace burnout or who may just want to talk about dental hygiene.

Really talk about dental hygiene…

Most dental offices no longer have dark rooms, so finding solace has to be found somewhere else.

From the ashes I have risen and it is all because I found my passion; in writing and in health. If you are passionate about something, pursue it with every fiber of your being. This is where you will find your happy place.

If you don’t know what your passion is or where it is, maybe you should get a coach.

The only time you should look down at someone is when you are helping them up

Jesse Jackson

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