Jamie Bolling of Sweden, who has a spinal cord injury in a fall from a horse, has four personal assistants and has the confidence of a complete woman and an accomplished person.
Jamie Bolling, a native American, citizen of Sweden and Switzerland, executive director of the European Independent Living Network, loves to introduce herself – “Three passports, three marriages, two children and one passionate desire to make the world a better place”. Her life is dynamic, active, full of travels, meetings, conferences, media appearances. Jamie had been in a wheelchair for 20 years, so all of the above sound extraordinary.
Today, she is one of the most wanted experts on disability from governmental institutions, NGOs and business. She has worked in Africa, Estonia, Latin America, and she is the Vice President of the Swedish United Nations Association. In Bulgaria, Ms. Bolling participated in a roundtable on “Personal assistance: human rights and investment in people with disabilities”. We thank her for taking the time for an interview in a tight schedule, in which she confesses many personal things about her lifestyle, destiny and life. It coincided with the day, when the media reported the story of the boy, who had to travel to Varna in a mail wagon with his wheelchair. In the contrast between this fact and Jamie’s shared thoughts, we apologize to the readers for the understandable resentment they will experience.
– What were your dreams and plans when the misfortune happened to you?
– I was 36 then, I already had two children, I have been lived in the USA, in Switzerland, I have been traveled to many places, I have been on safari in Africa … But I was not very satisfied with my life, I perceived it as superficial. And when, while riding, the horse threw me from his back and I injured my spine, I found myself in a wheelchair. After the accident, my life completely turned and led me into a battle for a world’s change, for a barrier-free and accessible world for people with disabilities. I managed to get back even in Africa, though in a wheelchair. I did it hard, but I achieved it! And I have achieved much more with partner organizations that help people with disabilities, which satysfies me. So after an accident, my dreams are far more valuable.
– How did your children and your spouse overcome what happened?
– My ex-husband couldn’t overcome it, he suffered from a mental trauma and left me. It was not easy for my children either. My older daughter wants to take me home every single day, even I was in the hospital for 6 months treatment. Then they wouldn’t let me sit in a wheelchair. It took them years to introduce me to their classmates, they didn’t want to go with me to the center, they didn’t let me take them to tennis. To get their friends used to me and to break my kids prejudices, I picked them up in my wheelchair, walked them around. Once at my birthday at home, I played music and danced in my wheelchair and my kids stopped me: “Mom, do not do this, you look so stupidly…” Now we often go out and dance together, but one is already 27, the other turns 30 years.
– How did you handle emotionally?
– The first year I was constantly crying. Next year I was drinking champagne. Two or three years after the accident, I was impersonal – there was such a feeling that you felt neither a man nor a woman. However, I went to a disability conference where I met the man, who is my current husband. We have many interests in common, we are working together professionally like municipal councilors in our city. We both have strong faith and we are volunteers in the Church.
– When did you turn drama and suffering into a personal cause?
– I believed that nothing happened by chance and by certain reason and not without the help of my faith.
– Did you not hate the Lord after what happened to you?
– I cursed Him too much, I was very angry with Him in the beginning. At the hospital, I told Him: “I wanted a better life, and what kind of life did you give me?” I was very depressed at first and only seeing everything in black. However, nice dreams began to come to me, and that gave me the belief that things would change for better. I know many people who do not believe in God. I believe, I made that choice for myself and I feel happier that way. Both of us with my husband have a faith that I did not share with my previous husbands. One cannot choose the moments destined for him, but one can choose how to deal with these moments – I read this in Victor Frankel’s book “The Will to be”. There are so many opportunities around the world and we have to take them! Two years after the accident, I began to work for our movement. Every day for me is exciting, every day is new and I have to adjust to it. At some moment, people with disabilities learn that they must fight for themselves, for more accessibility and personal assistance; to think of themselves as people equal to everyone else.
– What is your home like, how do you deal with everyday life?
– Fortunately, the accident happened in Sweden. If the accident was in the United States and I was dealing with good health insurance, everything should be fine, but not if I were a visitor without such insurance. I was injured eighth months after I settled in Sweden and I received medical care, even I was not covered by health insurance yet. Access to a personal assistant was given to me, they helped me to adapt my home, so I could use the kitchen, the bathroom … Now I have 4 personal assistants – they come every day to help me with a bath, get dressed, take off things from the cabinets in the kitchen because I like to cook alone. They help me carry, whatever I need, in my self-driving car – it’s adapted for me. And if I have pain, they take me to emergency. When my daughters go on vacation and leave their dogs with me, my assistants also take care of them. One assistant also accompanies me when I am traveling abroad.
– What are you thinking about the problems of people with disabilities in Bulgaria?
– In order to live like I am living in Sweden, they must be very rich to pay for their personal assistant. I understand from my friends here, that this assistance is limited and many people’s lives depend on family’s support. I would hardly be here today and talking to you, if I did not have my personal assistants. But we also have a motive for battles. For example, the bus that stops near my house is not accessible. The definition of personal assistance itself has also restricted, limiting the criteria for granting it, so I do not know, if I will be able to keep my four assistants. In the USA, people with disabilities are now demanding not to pay taxes. So this is an ongoing battle – a battle with sociaty for accepting our needs as our rights.
– What is your social life looks like?
– On Sundays, my husband and I go to church, sometimes to concert, theater, or movie, and we like to have dinner with friends. We are both involved in politics, so we discuss such issues a lot. He came to Bulgaria with me because he was interested in the problems of people with disabilities. We like gardering in front of the house. We love to dance – he grabs my hands and we move slowly, with the weelchair, once we even tried waltzing We are both fishermen, and the record in the family is mine – I caught fish nearly 6 kg. But I’m only up to the hook – an assistant helps me get my catch in the boat.
– Did your children change for better because of what happened to you?
– Living with me, they met many people with disabilities, with vision or hearing problems, without arms or legs. They look at them as ordinary people, talk to them as equals, do not look аrrogantly or with embarrassment to them. But my older daughter still doesn’t want to see my photos taken before the accident.
– How do you handle these memories?
– Everyone has good and bad days and when the “bad” ones happen, these memories come on their own … Yes, there are things from my previous life that I do miss. I miss running – I loved to run, to dive in the pool … But one has to be able to cry and laugh. To continue to live. If I do not think so, I would not celebrate on September 4, the day of the incident. This year was 20th anniversary – my husband and I had a party with 65 people, we played games, we danced … Hopefully we can do it for the 50th anniversary too!
Weekly Labor newspaper, October 12, 2011