Tension, Anxiety and Ulcers

From the book Hand to Hand
John’s Road to Healing – Tension, Anxiety and Ulcers

In 1948 I accepted a job in the Inspection Department of the Bank of America. At the time, Beth and I were living in Menlo Park, California where our daughter Kathelin was born a year later. We lived there until 1952, when we moved to Woodside, California, which was home to the family for 25 years. Our son John was born two years later.

My first three years in inspections were spent traveling to bank’s branches, reviewing bank and employee accounts. I liked my job but the memory of the $12.85 shortage stayed with me. I was always subconsciously looking for the person who stole my cash.

While in the Inspection Department, I was temporarily assigned as a bookkeeper to Stanford Research Institute (SRI). There, I worked on the emerging electronic banking computer being developed for the Bank of America. My first day, I walked into a building without partitions, packed with wires and vacuum tubes. An open space in the center held a huge drum. This drum was a special-purpose computer, which held the balances, checks and deposits of as many as 5,000 accounts in its memory. Next to it was a counter with a hole in which I dropped, one at a time, checks or deposits. A reader under the counter read the amount printed on the item and the amount was recorded in its proper location on the big drum. Every once in awhile, all the lights on the drum would flash and the SRI developers would look at it and say, “Clobbered again!”

I spent several months at SRI, fascinated by the work. But my constant tension and anxiety were taking a toll. In 1951, perhaps inevitably, I had severe abdominal pains, diagnosed as stomach ulcers. The emotional set-point established in my childhood was aggravated by my worry to the point of crisis.

“Emotional set-point” is a term I use to describe the overall emotional tone of a person. This tone is based on emotional responses to events in infancy and childhood. These responses create an attitude that affects daily life as an adult. My emotional set-point from early experiences was anxiety around getting tickled, which translated itself into anxiety around all future events, including, quite intensely, the missing $12.85.

Western medicine often deals with symptoms, trying to ease them one way or another without looking for the cause. The emotional set-point of a person can often serve as a window, giving us a clear view of root causes of illnesses. In my case, the missing funds situation triggered an emotional set-point that was further aggravated by the tension I felt at SRI. If the same situation happened to someone with a different background, it might not have bothered them as much or at all. But because of my past experience, it bothered me greatly and I got sick as a result.

After a year of diet restriction, I followed the advice of my physician. I elected an operation for a sub-total gastric resection, in which 80% of my stomach was removed. Recovery from the operation took two long months. I then returned to branch work for the bank.

There had been significant benefits to this set of circumstances. The ulcers manifested themselves as they had at various times earlier in my life when I had no control over a painful situation. However, in the case of the cash shortfalls, I had chosen to look for the solution to an uncontrollable situation by complete-counting one denomination each afternoon. Now that was an intuitive act, without a basis in logic. I just felt I needed to do it and I did. My intuitive act paid off. I had no logical basis for engaging in the tedium of that counting, but it turned out to be just the thing. Normally we would count only the bundles of bills, not the bills in the bundles. But from the counting I got a big clue to what was going on, and thus took control of the painful situation by an action that was beyond logic.

After a short time in the branches, I was assigned to the San Carlos branch as Operations Officer. The assignment was close to home at last, and I commuted by car the 10 miles from my home in Woodside. My duties consisted of seeing that the branch operated smoothly. I resolved problems with the customers, arranged training for new employees and searched for the answers to out-of-balance situations. I brought home for overnight and weekend work sheets of listings of checks and deposits, looking for totals that didn’t balance. It was a tedious assignment and I was not particularly good at it. One day I was offered a job in the Bank’s Systems and Equipment Research Department in San Francisco. I became proficient at computer systems development and programming, and eventually was hired away from Bank of America by Stanford Research Institute at Menlo Park, California

I left Bank of America in January 1965 having been there for 24 years and seven months. At Stanford Research Institute (SRI), from 1965 to 1974, I did system programming and systems development. I traveled doing projects for SRI and spent several months in Sweden, almost a year in Germany and a couple of months each in Japan and Saudi Arabia.

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