EXCLUSIVE: Lydia McLaughlin on Returning to 'RHOC' After Extended 'Maternity Leave' & Battling Shannon Beador

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Lydia McLaughlin is ready for the roller coaster that is Real Housewives once again.

“I feel like I took a maternity leave,” she jokes with ET. “Now, I’m back, and I’m better than ever!”

The 36-year-old walked away from Real Housewives of Orange County after one season back in 2013, but returned for season 12, which premiered last week.

“So, four years ago, I did the show and, honestly, I just thought that it was acting,” she admits. “And that just wasn't the case … I went in really naive … it was just a lot for me to really process. And I don't think I was totally ready.”

“I just felt like it was a little darker and real than I knew,” she adds. “That was really hard for me … it was really good for me to walk away.”

WATCH: Vicki Gunvalson Apologizes to Shannon Beador: 'I'm Sorry'

Not long after Lydia walked away from the Bravo hit, she and husband Doug welcomed their third son, Roman. Now that he’s a toddler, Lydia says it was time to return to RHOC.

“I'm totally in this different stage of my life,” she shares. “I was less worried about, like, how are they going to edit me? Or, what's going to happen? And I was more just, like, I don't even care. I'm back. I'm just going to have fun and be myself.”

“Life is about growing and evolving and learning,” she continues. “So, even if you're screaming at someone on national TV, there's a lesson to learn there, right?”

While Lydia can’t recall if she does any screaming, she promises plenty of screaming coming her way this season.

“Yeah, I get into it a couple times,” she admits.

WATCH: Vicki Gunvalson Is 'Done' Talking About Ex Brooks Ayers

The reality star says she knew what to expect in terms of how production works this time around, but had no clue what the other ladies would bring to the experience. She didn’t tune into the show after leaving it.

“Once you're on the show and you leave, you can't watch it,” Lydia says. “ It's too weird. It's like seeing your boyfriend, and then you break up, and then they're, like, making out with a girl. Like, you don't want to watch that, you know? So, like, Shannon [Beador], Kelly [Dodd]? I had never seen them before.”

Lydia confesses she thought she and Shannon would hit it off right away, noting her mother, Judy Stirling -- who will make several glitter-filled appearances this season -- continued to watch the show after Lydia left, and loved Shannon.

WATCH: Kelly Dodd Reveals She Underwent Two Major Procedure on New Season of RHOC

“I'm friends with Vicki [Gunvalson] and that makes her mad,” Lydia teases of her first meeting with Shannon, which goes down on episode two. The two get into it after Lydia casually remarks that Shannon reminds her of Vicki, who, of course, is Shannon’s worst enemy.

“Now, maybe I would understand that,” Lydia remarks. “But at the time? I'm like, you are this crazy middle-aged woman yelling at me at a kid’s birthday party!”

While Lydia hasn’t seen the full season yet, she promises it will be “captivating.”

“It's a wild ride,” she says. “Honestly, we would film, and I would go home to Doug, my husband, and be like, 'I can't believe that happened!' Like, some things happen that you're like, there's no way you could have even planned that.”

The Real Housewives of Orange County
airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo. For more on the new season, check out our chat with Vicki below.