When most people think of Kelly Bensimon, they think of the glam NYC socialite who went toe-to-toe with Bethenny Frankel on The Real Housewives of New York City. What they don’t know though, is that the mom-of-two went through an incredibly dark period following the birth of her first daughter, Sea. Recently, Kelly opened up exclusively to Life & Style about her battle with postpartum depression and what turned out to be one of the most challenging periods of her life.

“That was such a difficult time in my life. You have to remember, I was married to someone who was so much older and living in the Hamptons and New York City,” the 49-year-old stunner told Life & Style about her ex, famed photographer Giles Bensimon. “People would sarcastically say, ‘Oh, that’s so horrible, the Hamptons and NYC,’ but when you’re by yourself, you can’t drive, and you’re afraid of your own kid, it’s an incredible challenge. I felt like I couldn’t even help myself, let alone my child. It was really, really difficult.”

Fortunately for the model, she was able to pull herself out of the darkness with her own form of therapy: Horseback riding. “Some people believe in medication. I was fortunate enough to be able to find a love of horseback riding, and that was major therapy for me,” Kelly told Life & Style. “The great thing about horses is they don’t care what you’re thinking about. They’re basically like, ‘You focus on me or I’m going to throw you off!'” The Illinois native revealed that riding everyday gave her the confidence to keep moving forward.

That said, horseback riding wasn’t an overnight fix for Kelly. In 2016, while talking to YouTuber Mindy McKnight, Kelly confessed that her postpartum depression continued “on and off for about two years.” The main instigator? Loneliness. “I didn’t want to be by myself, but my ex-husband had just left to go traveling, and I was with this child by myself,” she admitted. “I was so young and none of my friends had kids, and I just … I was petrified.”

With teenage daughters and a seriously cool social life, Kelly is in a much better place these days. But, as with everyone, she has her ups and downs. “After I left Housewives, that was a really, really dark period for me. When you are defamed like that — I felt like I was in jail,” Kelly told Life & Style.

“People didn’t want to work with me because they thought I was the Queen of Crazy. But I had to remind myself that I have done amazing things with my life and that I have two incredible daughters,” she added. Kelly went on to reveal that summoning the courage to do Housewives in the first place was no easy feat. “I’m glad I had the emotional strength to be like, ‘I’m actually going to do this. I don’t need a man to support me.’ I really put myself out there and everyday was a struggle.”

Today, Kelly is busy with her family and writing career (her latest novel, The Second Course was released over the summer). And if things ever turn rocky, she has the knowledge and inner strength to pull herself out again.