INTERVIEW

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Leah McSweeney: "I felt I was fucked up for life and that I was never gonna get better"

Bronte Evans | 30/9/2021

Season 13 of the Real Housewives of New York City is well underway and Leah McSweeney has spent the last few seasons shaking up the cast with a real, authentic, and modern take on the world. Leah is a successful American fashion designer and founder of the women’s streetwear line Married to the Mob in 2004. As per Leah’s Season 13 tagline, she inspires us by being ‘sex-positive and BS negative’, with many adoring this influential, powerful, badass woman.

Mental health can be a turbulent path particularly when you’re concerned about stigma and judgments. Leah warmly opened up surrounding her experiences with mental health. “I remember getting my diagnosis when I was 30. It was my 30th birthday. And I was in my psychiatrist’s office thinking, what is wrong with me? Why am I back to this place again? When he replied and said I was looking through all of our text messages and it seems I won’t hear from you for a few months. And then all of a sudden, you text me and you’re like, having this crazy depression and then you tell me about what led up to it, how it was a series of you having all this fun, spending all this money and having sex with all these people. He said, this is Bipolar, you’re Manic Depressive. I was like, holy shit, what does that even mean? It was a relief but also felt like something was completely wrong. I felt I was fucked up for life and that I was never gonna get better-I remember feeling totally hopeless. Thank God, I haven’t had those symptoms for years now.”

The HATC team are boastful fans of Bravo and The Real Housewives franchise. For the team, Leah was a pioneer and breath of fresh air joining the cast with the New York Ladies back in 2020. Leah was open about her relationship with alcohol and the first housewife to be truly transparent about her mental health and began a dialogue. Leah educated the ladies and us at home. But I can imagine, it must have been sizeably daunting. “It’s something I’m still getting used to. It’s funny because I saw someone on Instagram posted, “Leah has bipolar everybody. She’s dealing with her mental health. She is disabled, you can’t be so hard on her.” and I thought no, I’m not a victim. Don’t go easy on me because of XYZ, I don’t want that at all. I’m just as capable as anyone else. You know what it is? Let’s take the bipolar aspect out of it and say anxiety, depression because I think I suffer mainly from anxiety at this point. Although I guess some people don’t. I think reality TV as someone

that deals with mental health issues I have to be aware of and have a support system. I need to be checking in with my psychiatrists. I need to have my inner circle, my support andbe hyper-aware.”

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Leah describes the aim of a healthy mind and wellbeing by producing enthralling rhetorical questions which really left the team thinking about her incredible point “Is this self-indulgent? Why do I need to work so hard at feeling good? I kind of feel bad about that. Other people who are struggling with physical illnesses, deaths, living in war-torn countries. And hearing this I feel a little guilty about it.” Mental health stigma refers to societal disapproval, or when society places shame on people who live with a mental illness or seek help for emotional distress or also use it to justify or explain a person’s behaviour. Leah conversed around this topic which is special to HATC and our core values. “Last year I was outed for it, which I did not think was gonna happen. I have been publicly open about it before I was famous and on TV. So when it was used, (I’m not trying to use buzzwords here) and it was kind of weaponised against me to explain the idea of this is why she’s acting this way, that was not me showing any symptoms of bipolar on the show. I was clearly just really drunk. In hindsight, it was great that it was brought up because I think it reached a lot of people, it gave me a chance to talk about it. It also made me realise that the important thing for me to do with this new platform is talking about mental health, it’s really popular to talk about it right now. But it’s something we’ve been dealing with for a very long time, I’m very happy that people are finally paying attention to it. That’s why I thought was great about Head Above The Clouds. Mental health, let’s talk about it! It makes me feel better. Selfishly I want to use my platform to talk about it and connect with people because it helps me.”

 

Leah reveals her experience with her mental health on the Real Housewives of New York City after a cast mate uncovered her diagnosis. “It was brought up in a dramatic way. We all talked about it. It was it’s fine the way it happened. I’m glad it happened when it did, as maybe it would have taken me longer to bring it up. I’m happy that it came up during the pandemic too. The show was airing during the pandemic, and the pandemic has been a mental health crisis for everybody. I mean, how are you not mentally affected by this? I still don’t know what’s happening in our world. When is this going to be over? I’m still mad anxious over this and I’m worried about COVID. We live in a new world and I’m still adjusting to it. And I was adjusting to it this past season when we filmed, that season was very difficult. That aspect of reality TV is weird because there’s plenty of days that I don’t want to see anybody and I don’t want to leave my house. I have those days, they don’t last for weeks and weeks like they used to, but they’re there and I can say, You know what? I have to show up. So that’s challenging.”

Everyone’s mental wellness journey is unique and individual. Sometimes we have blunders or modifications when we are progressing. Leah was asked what encourages her wellbeing daily. “Sleep is so important. If I do not get not enough sleep I am a wreck. I take medication. I have to exercise. I have a therapist. I see my psychiatrist because he does a lot of talking therapy. I’ve done it all, gone psycho-spiritual I’ve done it all, like Monks and Rabbis. Those were the key things.”

"I think there's a big difference between understanding oneself and then having to present yourself"

Leah McSweeney in New York 2004 commenced her clothing line, Married To The Mob (MTTM). MTTM is the first of its kind and truly packed a punch in the fashion industry. MTTM is streetwear and activewear-inspired but solely caters to females. MTTM provides a voice and edginess to women who can hold their own (in the likes of a man,) but had the art and charm of a lady. My favourite t-shirt design is from the ‘Don’t Talk Tees’ with the slogan ‘Don’t talk about my Mental Health or my Vagina’. Leah reveals what it is like to be a businesswoman, “I was 22 at the time I started it, it was nuts for me to do that. I was taking risks all over the place, there were times throughout the last 17 years where I totally fucked the company up because I was off being a fuckup you know. I was in a toxic relationship because I knew it gave me the adrenaline rush. It was me being hyper manic or whatever it was. I almost ran the company into the ground. I got so lucky by running into someone just at the right time. I happened to go to an event where this guy was like, Hey, I want to partner with you. And I’m like, what you do? Okay, sure. You know, I was always in the right place at the right time, so to speak. But there were times when I had the worst hypomania but it was the time that mob had the best sales.

“I had had investors and then I lost the investors. I figured out how to create a line. I created a collection for back to school and went to a trade show, I did this somehow within a few months, including being down the factory. You have to be hypomanic and crazy to do that. I would say that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with mental health issues. Married To The Mob was a way for me to channel the energy. I had to be disciplined. I had to rein it in sometimes, because I have employees and have XYZ to do. One year back in like, 2016 was when I ended up in a psychiatric unit which I really don’t talk about often. That year I didn’t design a whole collection. And then I was like, Oh, God, I have nothing to sell. I think after that stay at the psychiatric unit I thought a lot of this stuff is circumstantial and I’m creating a mess myself. Thank God that I have the luxury of being able to take steps and make choices that are better for myself, when someone maybe with schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder doesn’t have the privilege to do that. There are circumstances of course, that I can’t change, but some things I can like; getting enough sleep, staying away from fuckboys. So, that was a huge turning point for me. And everything started getting better after that.”

Married to the Mob has a fan base including the likes of Rihanna, Lil’ Kim, and Fergie. “Rhianna has worn MTTM a few times. And she wore one design that blew the fuck up. She’s been wearing MTTM since I remember and worn a bunch of Mob stuff. Like any time any person I admire wears my brand, it’s a huge thing. It’s a pinch-me moment. But it is hard for me to take in the good sometimes as I am very focused on what needs to be done or hasn’t been done yet. But when I sit and think about it, I think, wow...I worked with Barbie, I worked with Collette and Paris. If MTTM ended tomorrow or some reason, I’d think I’m so happy and proud of everything I’ve done with it.”

Leah is a wonderful Mother, an entrepreneur, businesswoman and reality television star. Leah unlocks the stigma encompassing Mental Health and Motherhood. “I had my daughter when I was young. I definitely had postpartum and had no idea because I wasn’t thinking about it back then because I was drinking and stuff. It’s not been easy, I got diagnosed with bipolar when my daughter was five years old. I had to get used to different medications, that was so hard. I was on the wrong medications for many years. Her dad was there and really helped me. At the end of the day, motherhood makes you better. It totally does. We’re mothers. We’re not perfect. We’re human. We’re allowed to have mental health issues and be moms.” Head Above The Clouds as a company is developing every day. Leah is very inspirational to the team so we craved to ask for some top tips for starting a business, “I think the younger generation is the generation of entrepreneurs. I think regular jobs/office jobs aren’t even going to have people to fill them because the younger generation are all about doing their own thing. I think it’s fucking awesome. And starting a company now versus when I did is so different. There are so many! Just social media alone. Gen Z is going to be the generation that makes emails obsolete, which I think is kind of fucking brilliant because I love to text. Like even if someone likes to text me because I get so many emails crazy. My advice would be just go for it!.”

As Leah proceeds to advocate for female empowerment, street culture, and creative entrepreneurship. She also contributes to breaking the stigma around mental health. Leah is an influential female icon that supports other women, feminism, and normalises sex. Her openness on the Real Housewives of New York City is inspirational and powerful. For the RHONY fans, we can confirm BITCH LEAH ELEVATES THIS SHIT!

 

 Leah’s debut book “Chaos Theory” is available to pre-order now.

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