One morning in 1967, when I was 12 years old, I woke up with Bell’s palsy on the right side of my face. Back in those days it was such a rarity in my native Holland that my story even ended up in a medical magazine, and solutions were still experimental. I had a surgical procedure, and received some physical therapy (basically facial massage). I even had electrical stimulation treatments which were so traumatic for me that every time I went there I passed out! Even with all of this, the right side of my face never fully recovered. Needless to say as a pre-teen it was pretty tough. However, I got used to my face, my personality and character shone through, and I simply lived my life. I got married, had my two boys and we all moved to the U.S.
In my 30’s I met an acupuncturist who helped me regain some movement back in the right side of my face, and that encouraged me to find out more about possible treatments. I found an ENT who gave me Botox injections when it just became popular back in the 80’s. He mentioned a physical therapist, Jackie Diels, who I went to visit for physical therapy treatment. It was a great experience and she definitely helped me to more effectively deal with my condition.
Then on January 14, 2012 – NEVER in my life did I think I could get it again – but I woke up with Bell’s palsy on my LEFT side! I was horrified…scared…felt disfigured… and a prisoner in my own face. My jaw became dislocated, and I lost 20 pounds from depression and not being able to eat.
The year before had been a fantastic year, with a new man in my life and both my sons getting married. Thank God, my then “future” husband was an incredible support, and even proposed to me! Also, my brain was still functioning, so I did a lot of research on the internet and found medical support in the southern California area, including physical therapist Teresa England, and surgeon Dr. Babak Azzizadeh.
My face felt horrible at the time! I couldn’t use my facial muscles on either side of my face, and therefore I felt my face was aging very quickly. In 2013, I decided to have a selective neurolysis procedure (I was one of the first to have this procedure with Dr. Azizzadeh), and it really made a difference in how my face felt and looked.
During these years I had retreated into myself, lost all my self-confidence and preferred not to go out. Before I was always very social and love to laugh and be with people, so it was devastating.
So while I stayed home, I started to paint. First, I took a local class and just loved it! Then I set up my little painting studio and equipment at home and painted for hours and hours, scouring the internet for ideas on every subject I could think of. I especially like to paint faces and figures of women, but I also paint horses and pets.
I slowly started to get my self-confidence back, and Bob and I decided to get married. It was a lovely wedding at our home, and we had over 60 guests. As a wedding favor for them I made a mini painting for every couple or single person – 40 in total. It was a big success!
I started painting for her – a big stork, a little pink stork carrying a baby, a dress for her room, little girls…it was all so therapeutic.
My family and friends were all so enthusiastic, and I gave a lot of paintings as Christmas or birthday gifts. Our little class had an art show, and I sold quite a few paintings. After that friends just came to commission me, and now I just started my art website and have my first business cards!
My face is not perfect, but thanks to the medical community, my husband, family, sweet little granddaughter, pets, friends and now my painting, I have a zest for life once again!
To view more of Aldy’s paintings, you can visit her website, www.artbyaldy.com.