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I Felt Stuck In A Rut So I Took A Solo Trip To Hawaii For A Week

My life was buffering, so I hit reset.

Travel

I suffer from SAD—social anxiety disorder. And while I'm self-diagnosed (I have anxiety about seeking medical help, because that would mean actually having to talk to someone about this. Not my strong suit), I've read up on SAD and I totally fit the profile: "Everyday social interactions cause irrational anxiety, fear, self-consciousness, and embarrassment."

I can go to a crowded club and be the life of the party if I really wanted to. But I will be the most socially awkward person at a game night of fifteen guests, some of which I know because, well, I'm not quite sure (see previous note about therapy above). My SAD manifests at different levels. Sometimes it's me stuttering to get out one simple sentence and, at my very worst, I've become paralyzed with fear sitting in someone's living room as if I were on stage at Madison Square Garden with no words at all.

This is a particularly debilitating diagnosis for me, not just because I spend most weekends in solitude or haven't been on a date in years, but because my career as a lifestyle/entertainment journalist requires me to mix and mingle, network and basically talk to people and get them to open up to me. Although I often put my big girl pants on and get the job done, I feel my work has definitely not lived up to its full potential due to my lack of ability to be more social. Recently, I've felt stuck in a rut and while going to therapy is on my long-term to-do list, in a jolt of inspiration, I decided to take more immediate action and booked my very first solo trip before I turn the big 3-0.

It would be my own little version of an Eat, Pray, Love journey, except I'm not a white, middle-aged woman leaving behind dreamy James Franco to eat pasta in Italy. I'm a millennial Nuyorican with no James Franco, looking to get my social mojo back. Now folks take solo trips for all sorts of reasons, but a solo trip to combat a phobia of socializing? How does that work? To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure either. But I flew out to Waikiki Beach, Hawaii on the morning of my 29th birthday by my lonesome for an entire week and from the very moment I landed, the mysteries behind my inner psyche began to unravel.

Here's how a solo trip to Hawaii helped break me out of my shell and nudged me to meet and interact with people, break away from my workaholic ways and content-driven anxiety (another "issue" of mine that comes with the job) and stop to smell the roses… or in this case, the Hawaiian Hibiscus.

I had activities for days.

Courtesy of writer Jazmine Ortiz

I had a list of activities and sight-seeing lined up that by society's conventions you'd normally do as a group or at least as a pair—hike Diamond Head Crater, visit the Honolulu Zoo, attend Germaine's Luau in Kapolei, spend the day at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, and hit Waikiki Beach. Then there were the more commonplace outings—dinners, bars and shopping trips. A lot of things felt forced at first and then they just flowed. For instance, while trying to plan out my itinerary I reached out for tips via Instagram to an old college classmate who had moved to Hawaii two years ago with her husband. I let her know that I'd be traveling solo and that it might be nice to see a familiar face. So, for my first full day in Waikiki, she and her husband took me to dinner at Tiki's Grill & Bar where we had the best time.

I forged a path and found my way on my own.

Courtesy of writer Jazmine Ortiz

Then there was my morning at Diamond Head. I love hikes and decided that I would do Diamond Head long before I arrived on Oahu. I flew out from Los Angeles since I was already there for work, so I cut costs there, but Hawaii is as expensive as everyone says it is so besides my big-ticket excursions like Disney and the luau, I wanted to keep everything else budget-friendly. Upon looking at the official state park website I learned it was only a $1 entry fee and a 15-minute local bus ride from where I was staying. I thought, "I could totally do this on my own!" My mom, however, wasn't having it so I complied and booked a tour at the last minute. Big mistake...or biggest blessing depending on how you look at it.

Long story short, my tour guide never came to pick me up like he said, so at 5:30AM still standing outside in the dark before sunrise, I decided to go with my original plan to do it without a stinkin' guide. I hopped on the bus, paid my $1 entry and hiked up the edge of that 300,000-year-old crater all by myself. When I got to the top, did I discover the missing link to my social gene? No. But I did get a pretty amazing view of the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu, and the way down I made friends.

I made new friends in unexpected places.

Courtesy of writer Jazmine Ortiz

While on Diamond Head, I saw a couple taking in the view on the hike downward, and I think because I appreciated the people that asked if I wanted a picture when they saw I was by myself, I decided to spread the love and offer to take theirs. Before I knew it, we were a trio talking, laughing, spilling travel stories and little did we know, making a new one. I learned they were not a couple at all, just life-long friends from San Francisco who shared wanderlust and a fun tongue-and-cheek dynamic. When we got to the bottom they treated me to some Dole Whip, a frozen dessert native to Hawaii, then we grabbed lunch and exchanged more travel tales. Now, I have two friends in The Bay to see whenever I make my way over there!

I channeled my inner Moana with a haku lei.

Courtesy of writer Jazmine Ortiz

Another highlight was a haku lei making class I took that was offered through my hotel, Shoreline Waikiki. A haku lei is what we on the mainland call a flower crown. I take arts and crafts very seriously and was on a mission to live out my Moana fantasies in an authentic haku. Little did I know the sweat and tears (on the inside) that went into making a perfectly crafted haku. Luckily, I had a tablemate who was on the same mission as me because as the rest of the tables cleared out, we wrapped, weaved and clipped away until roughly two hours later were Moana-fied. During our two hours in the struggle, being a native, she explained to me the even more complex process of making a traditional haku that had been passed down in her family. I cherish those two hours.

But perhaps, the most Julia Roberts-esque thing to happen to me during my solo travel was the very last day that I was there. I had stumbled upon a mostly deserted beach away from the swarms of tourists in Waikiki and was sitting atop a ledge that overlooked the sand when a James Earl Jones-looking character sporting dark shades and riding a trike motorcycle pulled up beside me to see if I was in need of any assistance. And I guess I was, but not in the conventional sense.

We got to talking and before I knew it, I had another buddy in Hawaii. He ended up giving me a ride on his trike to another part of the beach further down. If you're a Disney fan like me, this is where you cue "How Far I'll Go" off the Moana soundtrack. If you're my mom, this is where you cue the theme song to Law & Order: SVU. Thankfully, I lived to tell this tale and I'm able to share the words of wisdom he shared with me. Just as I hopped off his bike and thanked him for the ride, out of the clear blue he asked me, "What's your dream?"

Now this is a question that would normally make me freeze up and retreat into my SAD bubble but after seven days on island by myself, I had done a lot of thinking and knew the answer: "I don't have one."

Storytelling has always been my passion. I winded up going to school to become a journalist and was blessed enough to snag an internship which landed me my dream job. I'm currently living the dream I had, but never bothered to make a new one. I started explaining to him that I'm indecisive by nature and that eventually I'll figure it out, but as the words left my mouth they sounded like nothing but a lengthy excuse. He called bullshit on me right away and simply said, "Just make a decision." That's it.

And as I waved good-bye and walked the sand onto the most beautiful beach that I've ever seen, I realized that's how I got here. I decided to come. It really was that simple. I got so uncomfortable with being uncomfortable in social situations that I just decided to come to Hawaii and be more social. And I did.

I'm not saying that this is the case for everyone with SAD, or anyone dealing with any type of psychological disorder but for me it was. I'm also not saying I'm cured either. Since my return to the mainland, I'm trying to apply what I learned from my trip and it's not so easy when you're not operating on vacation brain, but I've decided to try.

It's a very peculiar thing what we let hold us back from reaching our full potential as if we are not in control of own lives. For me, the first step was as simple as deciding and I did that before I even got on the plane.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

Did you know that xoNecole has a podcast? Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify to join us for weekly convos over cocktails (without the early morning hangover.)

Originally published on July 23, 2019

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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