'If there's healing out there to be found out, she will find it'

Maggie Crowder with her Bert Nash therapist, Tanner Edwards.

Maggie Crowder with her Bert Nash therapist, Tanner Edwards. by Jeff Burkhead

Note: Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center will observe Mental Health Awareness Month in May with stories of hope and recovery.

For Maggie Crowder, forgetting the past wasn’t the hard part. Remembering was.

She wished she could forget. But she couldn’t. Years of abuse had left her with memories — more like nightmares — she couldn’t shake.

But thanks to a treatment she went through at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center called exposure therapy, as well as individual and group therapy, Crowder was finally able to confront her past and move forward without those painful memories haunting her every step of the way.

“I came from a self-abusive background along with major abuses all my life,” Crowder said. “I had become a cutter. I had gotten further into feeling like I didn’t really care whether I lived or died. The prolonged exposure therapy was really huge for me. There were times I wasn’t sure I was up for it. But it was definitely life-changing.”

Exposure therapy attempts to reduce the fear and anxiety people experience when they are reminded of their traumas. Avoidance of traumatic events can adversely affect a person’s quality of life and prevent healing and recovery.

“I had never done anything like this before,” Crowder, 59, said of the treatment. “I was really skeptical at first and afraid. It was scary to relive those horrible moments. But if you can get to the point where you become desensitized to the trauma, you finally get to where it’s a piece of history about you, a piece of information, but it’s not something that controls you. The memories will always be there, but they don’t control me like they did before.”

Tanner Edwards, the Bert Nash therapist who worked with Crowder during the trauma therapy, was proud of Crowder for the courage she showed in confronting her painful memories.

“It’s a tough therapy, but Maggie has a lot of grit,” Edwards said. “She was determined. If there’s healing out there to be found out, she will find it. She got incredible results through prolonged exposure therapy. And a lot of it had to do with her sticking with it, even though it was hard.”

Crowder began coming to Bert Nash two years ago when she moved from Wyandotte County. She has been seeing Edwards for about a year and a half.

“I learned about Bert Nash from my daughter who lived in the area,” Crowder said. “I had some pretty extreme needs. I connected with Tanner when I was going through IOP (intensive outpatient program). We’re a perfect fit.”

Crowder was diagnosed as bipolar in 2006. She was living at a battered women’s shelter at the time.

“Looking back on my life, I think it’s been there for a lot longer than that but nobody knew what it was,” Crowder said. “Being bipolar affects about every area of my life; it’s always there. I probably live the biggest share of my life in the manic side of bipolar but also suffer from depression.”

Besides doing individual therapy, Crowder also participates in a dialectical behavior therapy group, though she wasn’t too keen on the idea of group at first.

“Group is something I didn’t want to come to, but I’m really glad that I did,” Crowder said. “There are still some days that I don’t want to come to group, when I’m struggling, but when I hear what is going on with other people in the group that is really helpful to me.”

Edwards said Crowder, who used to think about suicide and didn’t care if she lived or died, has come a long way in the last year and a half.

“Those things are virtually gone now,” Edwards said. “We haven’t had to worry about suicide ideation at all. Maggie has done really well to own her feelings and not feel ashamed of them anymore.”

Crowder has three children and five grandchildren, and her family has been supportive of her throughout her therapy. She also gets support from her therapy dog, Belle.

“There are going to be rough times,” Crowder said. “But it’s important to reach out and press on.”

Crowder and her therapy dog, Belle.

Crowder and her therapy dog, Belle. by Jeff Burkhead

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