Dr. Jerome Groopman’s The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness, may not be the kind of book with a title that will grab your attention and make you reach out for it from the shelves, but I am glad I did. Not only did I find it to be insightful and informative, but it was also much more readable than I had imagined (no thanks to the title) and did make for a most engaging read. I was really taken in by the sincere humility and honesty in which Dr. Groopman’s voice came across on the subject matter.
I learned much, and found the writing to be really helpful.
Personally, the past few years have been a rather exhaustive struggle for me in trying to help someone dear in my life, see hope. Dr. Groopman’s insights and observations have no doubt given me now a better understanding on the matter, and armed me with better tools to approach the subject, moving forward.
I thought about this, how our minds naturally jump to picture the negative outcome and stall there. It is because the mind is frozen by fear, and fear overwhelms hope.
Hope can arrive only when you recognize that there are real options and that you have genuine choices. Hope can flourish only when you believe that what you can do can make a difference, that your actions can bring a future different from the present.
To have hope, then, is to acquire belief in your ability to have some control over your circumstances. You are no longer entirely at the mercy of forces outside yourself.
To hope under the most extreme circumstances is an act of defiance that [….] permits a person to live his life on his own terms. It is part of the human spirit to endure and give a miracle a chance to happen….
I’ve come to believe that the way the body talks to the brain powerfully shapes our sense of hope or despair. [….]
Hope, then, is constructed not just from rational deliberation, from the conscious weighing of information; it arises as an amalgam of thought and feeling, the feelings created in part by neural input from the organs and tissues.
The question of hope became more than just a subject of study for Dr. Groopman when a ruptured lumbar disc, sustained while he was training for the 1979 Boston Marathon, found the doctor himself becoming the patient. It was to be the start of a long and debilitating journey, of living life with pain as a constant companion, for the next nineteen years. After nearly having given up all hope of recovery, Dr. Groopman was finally referred to the ‘right’ doctor.
“What do I mean that you are worshiping the volcano god of pain?” he asked. “You interpret pain as a red flag, a warning that you are doing damage to your body. So you sacrifice things that you love, activities that give your life joy, to be kept free from pain. You say to the volcano god: ‘I will give up walking long distances if you keep me out of pain. I will give up lifting my children if you keep me out of pain. I will give up travel, because long trips stress my spine. Just keep me from pain.’
“But this god is never fully satisfied with any offering: It is appeased for only a short while. So the more you sacrifice, the more it demands, until your life contracts, as it has, into a very narrow space. I believe you can be freed from your pain. I believe you can rebuild yourself and do much, much more. [….] You think what I am saying is complete bullshit. You’ve lived all these years without any real hope, and it’s hard to open that door and glimpse a different kind of life.
[….] It’s your choice: to try or not to try. You can walk out of my office now and believe everything you’ve believed for the past nineteen years, and live the way you have. Or you can test me. And I’ll tell you now, I’m right.”
I am glad to let you know that those words were indeed put to the test, and finally he was able to recover back the ‘life’ that he had lost in those nineteen long years of chronic pain.
Dr. Groopman also managed to draw a very clear picture of the Body-Mind and Mind-Body Connection, with regards to hope.
This is the vicious cycle. When we feel pain from our physical debility, that pain amplifies our sense of hopelessness; the less hopeful we feel, the fewer endorphins and enkephalins and the more CCK (a chemical that blocks endorphins) we release. The more pain we experience due to these neurochemicals, the less able we are to feel hope.
To break the cycle is the key. It can be broken by the first spark of hope: Hope sets off a chain reaction. Hope tempers pains, and as we sense less pain, that feeling of hope expands, which further reduces pain. As pain subsides, a significant obstacle to enduring a harsh but necessary therapy is removed.
He goes on further to say that even by simply being able to alleviate a patient’s fatigue, which is a common unremitting symptom for many, by just a little, can have major impact on a patient’s sense of hope.
Without hope, nothing could begin; hope offered a real chance to reach a better end. Hope helps us overcome hurdles that we otherwise could not scale, and it moves us forward to a place where healing can occur.
….. no one is beyond the capacity to hope.
And the book closes with these parting thoughts:
….. we are just beginning to appreciate hope’s reach and have not defined its limits. I see hope as the very heart of healing. For those who have hope, it may help some to live longer, and it will help all to live better.