Adriana was 29-going-on-30 when we met.
As usual, it was raining in our little Mexican city.
My husband and I went to our church and offered a couple friends a ride home.
It was only half an hour out of the way but little did we know that in that short amount of time God would start to undo years and years of somebody’s isolation.
You see, we were in a sign language congregation, and Adriana lived in one of the houses we were supposed to visit.
Most of our friends had been advised not to visit her, for on top of being deaf, she had Schizophrenia, and she was considered to be dangerous and violent.
When we drove by her house we noticed the door was open and we decided to stop and call on it.
Adriana’s mom was already one of Jehovah’s Witnesses but did not know sign language at the time. My husband told her that we were looking for deaf people. She pointed to her daughter.
They had a store and Adriana was leaning over the counter trying to read a copy of the Watchtower in Spanish.
I asked her (signing): “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
She answered: “How could I unless someone explains it to me?”
The experience reminded us of the Bible story of Philip when he approached an Ethiopian man and asked the same question (Acts 8:26-39).
Adriana began attending sign language meetings the following day and continues to do so when her family can afford to pay for her medication. When they can’t, she falls into a sort of depressive state in which she doesn’t feel like seeing anyone.
Sometimes she would blank out and when she would come back she would tell me about a friend she had in grade school who fell ill and never came back to class. Then she would tell me she fell off a swing and hit her head as a child and that is why she had so much trouble concentrating. Her mother confirmed these events.
When I asked the congregation why no one had visited her, they said she was unpredictable and had been known to pull on hair. I found information on how to talk to schizophrenic patients in an old issue of Awake! magazine. I learned not to contradict her, but to validate her opinions and then point out that there were other points of view. I never felt aggravated in her presence.
I told her it was OK if she didn’t feel well enough to attend church on some days. She began to accept herself and in turn, the deaf community began to accept her. She made friends and her family saw the urgent need to learn sign language in order to support her further development. Within 6 months she started visiting other deaf people and explaining Bible passages to them.
In order to get baptized, Jehovah’s Witnesses need to answer about 400 questions by making Biblical references. Adriana grew up attending Spanish services and had always dreamed of getting baptized. She reached this goal within one year of switching to Sign Language.
Depression is quite different than Schizophrenia. Adriana is not a socialite. She enjoys being alone but that is quite different than being lonely. She likes to make her own well-informed decisions and she is exceptionally organized. She still works at the store in her house and babysits her niece and nephew, whom she adores regardless of her state of mind.
I can’t understand all she’s been through but I felt it was my purpose to support her. I know what it’s like to be miscategorized, misjudged, misunderstood. I know what it’s like to wait and wait for years for someone to tell you you’re not that different, you can work around this, this doesn’t define you.
People can seek mental health services for years but if there is no social structure to support them, they will not get better.
The most important thing I learned from Adriana is that God seeks out those who are hurting most to make them useful to him.