MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) – Sister Lucindia Claghorn has built a ministry that sheds light on her own paranoid schizophrenia to help others who struggle with mental illness and the stigma surrounding it.
“If you are diagnosed with schizophrenia, it has the same social impact as being convicted of a crime. They have no credibility in society. People don’t believe you,” Claghorn said.
Despite being told she would never be able to live on her own due to the challenges of her serious illness, Claghorn lives independently with her canine companion Millie. Her Chihuahua and Pomeranian service dog not only showers her with affection she’s never known, she’s the unique key to keeping her grounded in reality.
“She lets me know when I’m hallucinating. If I hear noises and she doesn’t bark, then I know I’m hallucinating…and I know I need to call my treatment team at AltaPointe and have my medication adjusted,” Claghorn said.
The chemical imbalance in her brain triggers voices only she can hear. She says it’s like being sucked into a black hole with no way out.
“They only start out as whispers, murmurs. I can’t make out what they’re saying, but the sicker I get, the more outspoken they become and the more they tell me I’m evil. I am the antichrist. I have to commit suicide just to save the world.”
The voices began in their teenage years. Her junior year picture from the 1971 Mobile’s Davidson High School yearbook takes her back to that dark time when the affliction began.
“I’m amazed. You can’t see the agony on my face that I felt this year. It was one of the worst years of my life,” Claghorn said.
She recalled screaming in class because of hallucinations of blood on her hands, having her classmates taunting her and even spitting on her. Claghorn says she was an outcast at school and at home, where she suffered physical and emotional abuse. Her mother told her she was ugly and wished she had never been born. At the age of 17, her mother left her at what was then Mobile Mental Health. She was horrified. However, the medics gained their confidence.
“I’ve learned to be better with people, better with my emotions, better with my illness. I learned life skills that I didn’t have from my childhood. So I am grateful to AltaPointe (formerly Mobile Mental Health) for what I have become.”
Claghorn graduated with honors, fulfilled her dream of becoming a nun, and received numerous awards for her work advocating mental health.
Tuerk Schlesinger, CEO of AltaPointe Health, says Claghorn is a great asset as a patient advocate.
“I think Sister Claghorn has a personality that says she wants everyone to know that you can overcome a mental health problem and be successful,” said Schlesinger, who also said it’s rare to have someone with schizophrenia to be so accommodating.
Sister Claghorn explained why it is important to her to continue her mission to help others with mental illness.
“When you help others, you find the solution to your own problems. If you always have your hand—that give me, give me, give me—you fail to appreciate what you have and you block the blessings that will come to you. You’re getting self-centered and to me…hell isn’t fire and brimstone. It is total absorption into yourself.”
She has written a book called Angels of Love, Prayers for the Insane. Her words offer a powerful insight into her illness and her gratitude.
“I want to be a speaker and a light. I want to light this one candle to light up the darkness and get rid of the darkness of ignorance and prejudice. That’s what I want my legacy to be, and if I do that…then I can die a happy nun.”
Sister Claghorn has donated all proceeds from her book to AltaPointe Health, where she remains a patient and runs a support group twice a week. She also lectures to medical professionals on schizophrenia and related disorders.