Linguistic PTSD

Is there such a thing as linguistic PTSD? I mean in the following way: when a soldier returns from war and five or six years after the event begins to suffer dreadfully from a misplaced understanding of the environment. For example, a simple shopping-centre can be the stage for him or her to drop suddenly to the floor on hearing the bursting of a child’s balloon.

I have recently published documentation online – auto-ethnography in fact – relating to events which took place in Croatia in 2002. This documentation forms part of my recently completed MA in International Criminal Justice. At the time, I was subjected to intrusive and deliberately obvious surveillance, and was followed by a number of different networks – both state and criminal.

The root of and reason for the surveillance was an ultimately failed business project to set up open source in Zagreb. There were a number of potential partners: some were foreign and some were local; some of the local were in hindsight dangerously so, too.

In the event, I was unable to choose between one or the other, and suffered severe mental ill-health as a result of the environment I had been exposed to. Much as with Dr Emma Murray’s veteranality and veteran experiences of civilian life, post-service abroad, I wonder if and now conclude that I experienced similar dynamics.

Which brings me to raise the subject of linguistic PTSD. I have been in Dublin over the last month, and will return shortly. I have continued to publish and disseminate and discuss the experiences I had in Croatia at that time, as well as begun to form rather more considered opinions around who is directly to blame for what happened during that time.

Curiously, at the same time, recently wherever I go – today in Dublin Airport is one significant case in point – very quickly a couple of Croatian speakers pointedly sit down near me and speak loudly enough for me to hear. The speakers are generally young men, clean-shaven, short-haired, well-dressed.

Now this may all be a coincidence, but it didn’t begin to happen until the last week or so. For the rest of my stay in Dublin I experienced nothing like it, at all.

The really interesting thing about what is taking place, however, is my reaction on hearing the language: I immediately am on edge, feel nauseous and afraid, and find myself having to get up and move away. This I did twice in Dublin Airport this afternoon, and three times if I remember rightly a new set of Croatian speakers came up to me and sat clearly down within easy earshot.

Why should the sound of the language produce such sudden revulsion?

Might this be a long-burn reaction to the events of 2002? 

Am I suffering a kind of PTSD – located firmly in the 2002 Croatia I experienced – which people who wish the truth not to emerge are deliberately attempting to provoke in order to break my resolve?

Most usefully, I ask the following question: has anyone suffered from PTSD before simply on hearing a language they imperfectly know being spoken by people they have never met?

And one final thought: if they are trying to scare me, at the same time they are providing clear evidence that something very real traumatised me all those years ago.

Surely not something they would like me to easily demonstrate.

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