"I just I didn't have any time for a fairy tale," Dorinda Medley tells PEOPLE

By Dave Quinn
April 01, 2020 03:42 PM
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Credit: Getty Images

Season 12 of The Real Housewives of New York City won’t be particularly easy for Dorinda Medley.

The Bravo star had fans abuzz back in February, when the trailer for the new season showed her in several verbal conflicts with her costars. Luann de Lesseps, Ramona Singer, Sonja Morgan, Tinsley Mortimer and new Housewife Leah McSweeney even appeared to come together at one point to beg for her to seek help.

“We want to help you, don’t you understand?” Singer screamed. “There’s a problem here and we want to help you, you’re not getting it.”

Viewers quickly made assumptions about Medley’s struggles, but she tells PEOPLE ahead of RHONY‘s season premiere that what was happening behind the scenes was more serious than what anyone has guessed.

“I had an emotional year,” Medley explains. “And everybody assumes from watching that clip that it’s because I was fighting with this one or drinking too much of this, but I was going through a lot of changes that were really taking a toll in my personal life.”

Some of those changes included her shifting relationship with longtime boyfriend John Mahdessian, as well as a remodel of her new apartment in New York City and a broken rib she suffered over the summer.

Sucking up the most of her energy? The fact that Bluestone Manor — her house in Great Barrington, Massachusetts — had a massive flood last January that destroyed the majority of her belongings and required a massive renovation.

Dorinda Medley
| Credit: Sophy Holland/Bravo

“The house really hit me hard, not just physically but emotionally,” Medley says. “I had close to $1 million worth of damage on the house. It took me eight months to repair it. I treated it like a full-time job. When we first started filming, the house wasn’t inhabitable, and I was panicked. Every wall was opened up, there was no heat, no electricity; I had to redo all the duct work and electrical and everything. And I was like like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know how I’m going to film and finish the house at the same time.’ I was beyond stressed.”

“It was scary,” she recalls. “At one point, literally eight dumpsters left my house. I thought the process would be like, ‘Oh, they’ll come, we’ll all go through it together with the insurance companies and that’ll be that.’ And then all of a sudden, my whole entire life was in dumpsters. They were like, ‘We’re sorry, but this has all been ruined. This is filled with mold, you got to take it out.’ Can you imagine? Photo albums, furniture, Halloween and Christmas decorations — all gone.”

Medley inherited Bluestone Manor from her late husband Richard, who died in 2011.

She says the flood forced her to go through his stuff for the first time, drudging up a sea of emotions in the process. “I had never done that, really, after he died,” she says, noting a hand-written letter she recently discovered of his. “That kind of stuff, I’m still finding.”

“There were moments where I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this. It’s too much, it’s too big, it’s … I want Richard to be here to redo it. Where’s Richard?’ ” Medley remembers. “And it was my daughter Hannah who finally helped me get there. She put it in perspective because she said, “Mom, you need to make this your house and stop calling it your and Richard’s house, because you’ve earned that. You’ve run this house for eight years. You owned this house longer without Richard than you owned it with him.’ ”

“It’s just a statement that I never really got my head around,” Medley says. “I was sitting at the pool and I started crying. I was like, ‘Oh my God, you’re right.’ And she’s like, ‘Richard would be happy. He’s proud of you. He’s so pleased that you were able to keep this house up for so long.’ So that let me really let go.”

The cast of The Real Housewives of New York City
| Credit: Sophy Holland/Bravo

RELATED: RHONY‘s Luann de Lesseps Gives an Update on Her Friendship with Dorinda Medley

Throughout it all, Medley says she she learned a lot about herself — and was finally able to embrace the fact that she is “a strong, empowered woman.”

“I feel very happy with who I am, how I am, and where I am in life now,” she insists. “It hit home when I even got rid all these size zero dresses that I used to where when I first met Richard, that I was saving for some reason. And I looked at them and said, ‘I’m not that person anymore and that’s okay.’ I’m a really great me now. I’m sort of in a really good, empowered place, and I can run myself emotionally, financially, physically, and spiritually. What comes of that, we’ll see!”

Still, with that came “a sort of no-bulls–t attitude” that Medley says inspired most of the conflicts with her costars.

“I was filming with two construction sites, a broken rib, and all this emotional stuff going on,” Medley recounts. “I am sort of a person that takes in a lot and holds it in. And I think if I were to redo it, I would have expressed more about what I was going through to my castmates. But I was vulnerable, and it definitely made me more reactive. I just I didn’t have any time for a fairy tale.”

“What you’re going to see i s… my castmates perceived as me being angry,” Medley teases. ‘But I was going through so much s—, and a lot of these New York Housewives are very good at deflection. So you’ll see, sometimes I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I just called it out.”

“Hey, at least it makes for good TV,” she jokes.

The Real Housewives of New York City premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.