Framed photos of grandchildren line the hallway of Patricia Bowman’s modest apartment. Certificates and plaques of skiing accomplishments cover a bedroom wall. Dozens of craft projects lie scattered in different degrees of completion.

Nothing really out of the ordinary seems apparent in this 55-year-old Auburn woman’s world. Except that her world is anything but ordinary.

Bowman, nearly proclaimed dead after a 1989 automobile accident, has spent the years since regaining ordinary life skills and memories of a past life that doesn’t seem hers anymore. Bowman spent 18 days in a coma and nearly four months in the hospital. Even this many years later, Bowman has to continue with physical and emotional therapy to cope with the damage to her once-normal brain. She knows it will be a lifelong struggle.

A large, brightly colored painting done by her 19-year-old granddaughter shows an abstract person hugging the sun. Bowman thinks of the image as herself tightly holding on to her world, afraid to let go for fear of losing control of her life.

Finding motivation

“I’m totally afraid of letting go,” said Bowman. She speaks in clear but soft and slowly paced words, sometimes supplemented by sign language. “If I do, I won’t survive.”

Bowman surrounds herself with the good things in her life so that she doesn’t slip into the anxiety and depression that commonly plagues survivors of traumatic brain injury. She has turned her experiences and emotions into poetry and hopes someday to write her life story.

Left more and more alone by friends and family who were close to her before the accident, Bowman now struggles to keep herself constantly motivated to improve her life. She’s gone through high and low points since the accident.

At one time, Bowman helped start a support group for TBI survivors, was an active volunteer in several organizations and often spoke out as an advocate for people with brain injuries. Eight years ago, she self-published a collection of her poetry, “Feelings From Within.”

“I’m not handicapped, I’m not mentally ill, I’m not an invalid, and I’m not seeking attention,” says Bowman. “I am a TBI survivor, but that doesn’t mean that I’m an idiot or that I’m not able to learn.”

Bowman credits her mother, now 79; her sister, who died in 1995, and Jack Dubuc, a fellow TBI survivor, for her recovery.

He understood

“My mother’s belief in God kept us all going,” said Bowman. “My sister gave me strength and never let me give up. And my dear friend Jack knew what I was going through. No one else can really know what my life is like.”

Bowman continues to find productive ways to release her emotions and keep her spirits lifted so that the frustrations of constantly working on her speech skills and learning new job skills don’t get the best of her.

She is teaching herself to sew by making doll clothes for Christmas gifts. She reads John Grisham and V.C. Andrew books. Bowman considers being able to read again a miracle and a blessing after having lost that ability completely as the result of her injury.

“A good friend sent me big-print Readers’ Digest after the accident so that I could learn to read again,” said Bowman. “She still sends them, and I am so grateful. It means so much to be able to read.”

Bowman also takes an adult education class to learn computer skills. But Bowman’s smile dissipated when she acknowledged she couldn’t keep up with the assignments because her home computer lacks the necessary Internet software.

“It costs money, you know,” said Bowman. “When you live on (Social Security disability income), sometimes just having a place to live and enough food is all you can worry about.”

Bowman admits that she sometimes resents some recipients of government aid, who seem to get around the system and then leave funds depleted for those who truly need help.

“I’m not too proud to buy my clothes at the Salvation Army,” said Bowman. “But I get very angry when I hear (aid recipients) complain that their kids don’t have this or that, and they’re out partying.”

Poems of loss, freedom

Bowman, who lives in subsidized Section 8 housing, said she lives in fear that her state aid will stop or be cut, or that she’ll have to move.

Yet, despite her financial worries, Bowman still considers herself extremely lucky.

“All I can figure out is that God’s not finished with me yet,” said Bowman. “Maybe I can write something that will help others like me.”

Much of Bowman’s poetry deals with the pain of being abandoned by friends and family, the frustration of having thoughts trapped without the outlet of speech, the fear of what her future will hold and the feeling of release and utter freedom when she flies down the ski slopes with her physical therapy group.

A verse from Bowman’s poem, “Welcome to my World” reads:

“Be patient with me, my dearest friend.

You have not seen me at the end.

Each new day I continue to mend.

Will you please wait for me, my dear friend.”

Bowman’s eyes became watery and her speech dropped to a whisper when she talked about her ex-husband, who also suffered serious injuries in the car accident, and how he left her because she would never be the same person again.

“He was very badly hurt, too,” said Bowman. “But his injuries healed. Mine will be with me forever, and I don’t think he could take it any more.”

Bowman also regrets the effects the accident and recovery had on her children, who were 11, 14 and 16 at the time. For a long time, Bowman wasn’t able to even call them by their names, but could only say “the girl,” “the big boy” or “the kid.”

Her only wish now is that she can be close to her grandchildren and see them more often.

“They’ve never known me as anyone different than I am now,” said Bowman. “To them, I’m ‘Arma.’ That’s what they call me. To them, I’m just normal.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.