Across four seasons of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Dallas, Stephanie Hollman has been open about her history of depression, even revealing details about a suicide attempt. She says talking about her mental health issues, and not just pretending life is perfect, has been therapeutic. On the heels of a particularly contentious season of the show—even by Housewives standards—she believes what got her through it was an ability to separate her reality television role from actual reality.

“For me, the show is a job, and then I have my life,” says Hollman, an original member of the Housewives cast. “I separate the two because I think when they muddy, and you put them together, and the show is your life, and the audience is your life, and that’s all you hear in your head, that’s a very lonely, depressing, sad place to live. And I think a lot of people on reality TV and in the public eye probably live in that space. And I think sometimes the truth will set you free.”

The final episode of The Real Housewives of Dallas’s latest season aired this month. Hollman and cast-mate Brandi Redmond were in Austin and Houston last week for live shows built around their popular podcast, Weekly Dose of BS (the BS stands for Brandi and Stephanie). Although the Bravo-lebrities’ super-close real-life friendship has been celebrated by fans, and both have earned reputations as the least dramatic members of the cast, the season that just wrapped, which Hollman describes as “really dark,” apparently left nobody spared. Earlier this month, Redmond checked into a wellness center after apologizing for a racially insensitive video that recently resurfaced—a 2017 clip in which she uses a mock Asian accent to make fun of what she calls her “squinty eyes.” The video resurfaced after Redmond criticized a cast-mate for describing another member of the cast as a “chirpy Mexican.” After leaving the wellness center, Redmond posted a eleven-minute video to Instagram and as a special episode of their podcast, apologizing again for the video and telling viewers that before getting help she’d “felt bullied and didn’t feel like living anymore.”

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This backstory is the setup for a National Podcast of Texas interview that’s not really about the incidents and allegations that drove the just-concluded season, though the pair address the controversies in the larger sense of what it means to be a reality TV star in 2020, especially on a show that’s decidedly about drama. The pair also discuss what they’ve learned Bravo fans want from the show and whether reality television can actually be therapeutic—for the cast and its viewers. They also offer their take on what Dallas’s typically insular society circles make of the show.

Some highlights from the conversation:

1. Redmond believes that whoever leaked the 2017 video was on a “campaign for hate and bullying.” She felt frustrated by being characterized as a racist when, “In your heart, you know that’s not who you are.”

“My insecurity was that I had always used laughter and humor to feel liked and loved. And something that I did was used against me, and that wall broke. When that wall broke, I felt like I was losing everything. I was losing who I am. And then I realized in therapy that I had never looked in a mirror and actually said, ‘I love you,’ to myself. And at first, I laughed at that. I thought this was ridiculous, but it was so true. We have to love ourselves and have enough respect for ourselves, and then everything else just falls into place. And now, the hate is still there, but I can honestly just say, ‘You know what? I know who I am. I love myself, and it’s their problem.’ They can either choose to get to know me—the real me—or they can just have that hate and live with that hate. It’s definitely something that I’ve learned and I’m growing from. And I’m excited to share that. I am a grown woman who went through this, and I cannot imagine being a child or a teenager going through something like this and not being able to admit that they need help. That’s why I think it’s a very important lesson to be learned.”

2. On a December episode of the show, LeeAnne Locken described fellow cast member Kary Brittingham as “the little chirpy Mexican,” and at another point told her to “Find your own Mexican words.” During a two-part season-ending reunion special, Bravo host Andy Cohen confronted Locken for what he described as “vile, disgusting slurs against Mexicans.” Hollman says the whole situation was regrettable and hopes it can be a learning experience.

“I was ready for the season to be over because it was really, really dark, even for LeeAnne. My heart broke for her. Did she make those decisions? Yes. But, at the same time, it’s hard to come back. And it’s hard to be a part of something that’s so heated and so hate-filled. And I don’t think we’ve ever had that as a group. I know that other franchises have, but it was hard to navigate even if you weren’t in it to the extent that other people were. … I do have empathy for people going through things. I think that to ask somebody to live in their shame for their entire life makes us no better than them. So I feel like whenever they know what they did is wrong, and it’s been addressed, and the audience has had their input, I think supporting them to change and grow and be a better person is always the better thing to do. Because if you shame them to death, then they’re never going to get out of that space. And how can somebody grow if they’re constantly being reminded of the most horrible time in their life?”

3. Hollman says that realizing reality fame is fleeting and experiencing the disparate interest level in her life between when the show’s airing and when it’s not has been an important and humbling lesson.

“At the end of the day and after this show is over, people forget about you. You’re here one day, and the next day they’re saying, ‘Stephanie who?’ … Whenever the show’s airing, people come up to you all the time, and they recognize you. After a month of the show not being on, it’s weird. You don’t get approached as much. People don’t really message you. It goes from a thousand tweets a day to literally like fifteen because out of sight, out of mind. It’s very interesting when you’re in it this way. You really have to take care of yourself. I feel like my life is normal right now, but it won’t feel that way for three or four months when it’s on. You feel like you’re on display and judged. And I think that’s when you have to really take care of yourself.”