MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Sister Lucindia Claghorn has built a ministry that sheds light on her own paranoid schizophrenia in order to help others who struggle with mental illness and the stigma that comes with it.
“When you are diagnosed with schizophrenia, it has the same social effect of being convicted of a felony. You don’t have credibility in society. People don’t believe you,” said Claghorn.
Despite being told she would never be capable of living alone because of the challenges of her severe illness, Claghorn lives independently with her four legged companion, Millie. Her Chihuahua and Pomeranian mix 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’s not barking then I know I’m hallucinating… and I know I need to call my treatment team at AltaPointe and get an adjustment in my meds,” said Claghorn.
The imbalance of chemicals 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 start out as just whispers, murmuring. I can’t discern what they’re saying, but the sicker I get, the more pronounced they become and the more they tell me I’m evil. I’m the antichrist. I have to commit suicide just to save the world.”
The voices started in her teen years. Her junior year picture from Mobile’s Davidson High School’s 1971 yearbook takes her back to that dark time when the suffering began.
“I’m amazed. You can’t see the torment in my face that I was feeling that year. That was one of the worst years in my life,” said Claghorn.
She recalled screaming in class from hallucination of blood on her hands, her classmates taunting her, even spitting on her. Claghorn says she was an outcast in school and at home where she endured physical and emotional abuse. Her mother told her she was ugly and wished she had never been born. At age 17, her mother abandoned her at what was then Mobile Mental Health. She was terrified. However, the medical professionals gained her trust.
“I learned better ways to relate to people, better ways to handle my emotions, better ways to manage my illness. I learned life skills that I did not know from my childhood. So, I am grateful to AltaPointe (formerly Mobile Mental Health) for what I’ve become.”
Claghorn graduated college with honors, fulfilled her dream of becoming a nun, and has received numerous awards for her work advocating for mental health.
Tuerk Schlesinger, CEO of AltaPointe Health, says Claghorn is a huge asset as a patient advocate.
“I think Sister Claghorn has a personality that says that she wants everyone to know that if you have a mental health problem that it can be overcome and that you can be successful,” said Schlesinger, who also said it’s rare to have someone with schizophrenia to be so forthcoming.
Sister Claghorn explained why it’s important for her to continue her mission of helping others with mental illness.
“When you help other people, that’s when you find the solution to your own problems. If you always have your hand — that gimme, gimme, gimme — you can’t appreciate what you have and you block the blessings that will come to you. You become self absorbed, and to me… hell is not fire and brimstone. It’s total absorption in self.”
She’s written a book titled, ‘Angel of Love, Prayers for the Mentally Ill’. Her words offer a powerful glimpse of her illness and her gratitude.
“I want to be a spokesperson and a light. I want to light that one candle to illuminate 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 the proceeds of her book to AltaPointe Health where she continues to be a patient and runs a support group twice a week. She also lectures medical professionals about schizophrenia and related disorders.