4 minutes reading time (808 words)

Get off that seat and put up your feet!

writing_hobby Writing is my hobby

What do you do when you are not treating teeth? Get off that seat and put up your feet!

OK, that’s a poor example of poetry, it is not even poetry but merely a poor attempt at some rhyming to a beat-ish! 

Hobbies! Those great stress busters which most of us picked up when in school and dropped along the way when we moved on to university, dental practice and wherever else we may now find ourselves.

The topic of Mental Health has been prominent during this past year and I am not going to pretend either that I can address it or that there is a one-size-fits-all solution. At the time of typing this, just before the anniversary of the first UK wide COVID19 lockdown, we are all reflecting on the year that has been and how different it was from anything that we had previously experienced.

I am a mid-career dentist in my forties with a whole range of experiences both in dentistry and in life, but not even those multiple experiences which have helped me build a certain level of resilience could have prepared me adequately for the year that was.

Dentists! Notorious for operating in silos and bottling up everything from the water that feeds our dental handpieces to our emotions and thoughts!

A part of the blame must fall on the culture that we have built, of keeping up appearances as a profession. Outdated standards of behaviour which have been set by previous generations of dentists from less liberal times and unchallenged by us, enforced by the General Dental Council. That is a topic for another day, and I will return to it in a future piece.

I wish to address here what it is that we get up to when we are not drilling, filling, pulling, (insert appropriate dental activity). Many full-time dentists have little time for hobbies, even those who, unlike me, do not work weekends. There is always too much to do and too little time in which to catch up, in fact many of us never catch up and just move from one thing on the list to another on a never-ending list. That is, until a major life changing event happens.

Such an event is what we have all recently seen and are still living through, and for once it affects everyone simultaneously. There has never been a greater need or motivator for change.

Speaking from my experience, I had always wanted to write, but guess what? I never had the time for it! The very excuse given by so many writers who never write that the status of non-writing writer could be a question on the census form to know how many there really are of us.

The shock of the first lockdown, not unlike the shock which could be delivered by the Defibrillators in our clinical environments stopped everything. This time I was anxious that the re-start should not fizzle away a few days or weeks later (I have been in that position several times previously, remember resilience?). I began reading poetry again in May 2020 and 2 months later I began writing and submitting to magazines. In March 2021, 8 months after I wrote my first poem in many years, I have had 6 poems published in the UK and the USA and I have also read aloud and talked about poetry on local radio in Hull. Something unimaginable just a year ago! I would credit poetry, both the reading and writing of it, along with my supportive work and family environments for helping to keep me sane this past year.

This would not work for all levels of mental health needs, but a hobby (anything safe and sane), and totally unrelated to the work or professional environments helps recharge batteries like nothing else can. Hobbies can also make us better dental professionals. From the sculptors and painters who become better at the intricate work which we do with our hands in our professional lives to the writers who become better observers of things, people and social relations. I have no doubt that my skills in observation and empathy have vastly improved since I got back into poetry. You could say this of just about any hobby. We get transferable skills from everything that we do, and if we get pleasure and mental relaxation in the process, that is all the more motivation to pursue something outside of work.  

 Please put down that drill and put up your feet. I would like to read from fellow dental professionals, both here and on twitter where you can @ me @briteeth about your experiences of the past year and of hobbies. Let us live and live well.

Image Credit "Writing is My Hobby" by Charles Jeffrey Danoff is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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