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You may not write fiction, but we all tell ourselves stories. I struggled with my story for most of my life. I was 33 years old when I quit my job to write full time and despite having a life and a family, I felt like I was not much more than a pile of likes, dislikes, and responsibilities.

Tani, One of the Characters in Song of Sundering, Emerged Unexpectedly.

I had not planned for her. She had no place in the story–but she quickly made a place for herself and evolved into one of the dominant characters. There is the old writing advice to avoid self-inserts. But, what about the self-revealing character? Tani is, at very least, a part of me. An aspect of the multitudes we all carry. In a way, all my characters are. But, Tani proved to be special.

After years of my life spent doing what I “should” do, it was this strange anti-social character that led me down the path of what I needed to do. She also taught me about who I am. Tani is autistic, although I did not realize this when I was writing her. A year after she emerged as a character in my writing, my daughter received her ASD diagnosis. Three months after my daughter was diagnosed, so was I.

At this point, I was heavy into the editing process for the novel and I realized I had been living in a state of autistic burnout for years.

I haven’t told many people about my diagnosis. In fact, outside of my husband, one friend, and the therapists and other professionals my daughter and I have worked with since her diagnosis last year, I haven’t told anyone. I dropped a few hints to my sister… That did not go well. Black & white thinking runs in my family, and perhaps autism does too. But, I don’t think they would benefit from that knowledge.

I didn’t hate COVID, like most people. I was well over a year into self-imposed social isolation before I missed being around people other than my husband and kiddo. I am pretty sure I have entirely forgotten how to people, despite spending thousands of hours learning about people and how they work (a compensation for my inability to socialize instinctively — I have to practice it like an intellectual exercise).

Now, everyone is excited to be free to move about–to go to movies, dinners, activities. Since I got fully vaccinated three months ago, I have been out… twice. I used to feel terrible about my lack of energy to socialize. Now, I recognize that my self-care has to come before I can care for the things I love. From family, to writing.

We all have different things we need. I need noise cancelling headphones. Maybe you need to be surrounded by friends all talking and having a great time. I need time to explore topics that ADHD - ARCwtf’s Wiki - Obsidian Publish me. Maybe you need to hang out with a friend and make a podcast. I need deep 1:1 connections with people. You may be the same, or maybe you need a throng of friends.

Tani was a little voice inside me, telling me she was important. I trusted her, and she changed my life. Through her strength, I found mine. I have improved my physical and mental health. I have improved my relationships.

Who is your unwritten character, just waiting to tell their story?

Trust in what you love and it will take you where you need to go.

Natalie Goldburg