My late mother always said that the best way to get me to do anything was to say that I couldn’t. My wife would tend to agree. You see, I’ve got ‘thran’ on both sides.

Thran is a fabulous Ulster-Scots word that can be taken to mean stubborn. It could also feed into the contemporary notion of resilience.

My ‘Dead Duck Day’

There had been times when he knew, somewhere in him, that he would get used to it, whatever it was because he had learnt that some hard things became softer after a very little while.

― Nick Hornby, About a Boy (2000)

This day ten years ago, my life was changed forever. I’m told I suffered a ‘significant permanent brain injury’. I can’t remember. I can remember spending my 35th birthday, and then our first wedding anniversary, in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital. Since then, I’ve learned to walk, talk and read again.

My short-term memory is gone though. That part of my brain is dead. Despite this, I’m still fairly sure that someone who asks about ‘…that £20 you owe me?’ is due nothing more than a rebuke. 

Sometimes I find I repeat myself. Those around me are too decent to notice. I notice though, and it can be engersome – I’ll leave you to Google that one!

I have real difficulty using the ‘phone. I guess this is down to the non-verbal aspects of communication we may otherwise take for granted.  Hyperacusis can be an issue too. I’m fine with email though and, as I’ve discovered through lockdown, Skype and Zoom don’t present me with any more difficultly than they do for anyone else.

Acceptance and recalibration

I tried my best to get back into legal practise, but it is just not for me anymore. I don’t get the same buzz; it is just not there.

Then I got caught up in the Dr Watt recall a few years back. I now have a greater understanding of what I can, and can’t, do.

The damage to my vocal cords, coupled with the issue of my short-term memory, is such that I now know I’ve made my last speech.  To those who know me, this may not be a bad thing! 

Acceptance has been the greatest hurdle. It is, however, about simply making the most of the hand you have been dealt. Rather than regret what could have been; focus on what can be and celebrate in achieving it.

I still find reading difficult, but I’m a convert to audiobooks. It is not the same as physically holding a book, that smell of the paper, as you devour its contents conjuring up the writer’s imagery as they tell their story.  But if you focus on what can be, audiobooks are actually quite a good alternative.

I listened to Go Set a Watchman when it was released: an awful book only made engaging by Reese Witherspoon’s southern drawl narration. Indeed, I suspect I would have given up on the hard copy.

What I have done is to revisit and develop my pre-existing interest in how we communicate. I’m still learning; still recalibrating. Now I create unique, engaging content to help law firms build their bottom line through engaging with their past, present, and future, clients. 

Still learning; still recalibrating

For me, #MOOCs, or ‘Massive Online Open Courses’, have been a godsend. As I’ve said, reading is still a challenge, but bite-sized learning is something I’ve learned to digest. MOOCs can be accessed by anyone with internet access and a desire to learn.

They allow learners to dip their toes into a subject matter with minimal commitment. MOOCs also tend to be free of charge with some upselling if, for example, you want a certificate to document your learning. Platforms I’ve used include FutureLearnEdX and the Law Society of Ireland

In lockdown, I’ve gone back to my MOOCs. I’m still learning; still recalibrating. ‘Sometimes I find I repeat myself…’. 

#LegumMagister

MOOCs were my pathway back to formal learning and then, a few years ago, I got my LLM (Master of Laws), with commendation, for 25,000 words on ‘Regulating New Media and the Workplace’.  

It took me the best part of two years and it was a real struggle. Reading obscure academic articles, that might once have taken me 30 minutes, took me several hours over a few days. I set myself a goal and committed to achieving it.

Breaking a chapter down with: headings; sub-headings; and even sub-sub-headings, made writing a dissertation something tangible and, ultimately, achievable.

So, what is resilience?

So, what is resilience?  I’m still not sure.  I suppose it comes from the Latin ‘to bounce back’ but it seems to be one of those buzz words the meaning of which has become somewhat lost in translation. 

I prefaced my LLM dissertation with this quote from To Kill a Mockingbird:  

Real courage is… when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. 

Harper Lee (1926-2016)

That is good enough for me but, to my mind, my story is not about ‘resilience’. This is just me being me. I‘ve always pushed myself to be the best that I can be and that hasn’t changed. It isn’t going to change.  

Maybe I’m just thran that way…

My wife and our nephew abseiled Belfast Castle at the weekend in support of Brain Injury Matters.  You can support their efforts at justgiving.com/fundraising/claireandodhran

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By Paul Sullivan FRSA

Creating unique, engaging content for your law firm clients