Clayton Echard is a mental health advocate, former football player, and former contestant on season 18 of The Bachelorette and as the star of season 26 of The Bachelor. He sat down with me to talk about his life, what appearing on the show was like, and how it helped him grow and step into who he is now. Mental health is something that Clayton is passionate about, and he’s now using his experiences to help others.
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1AND1: Reflecting on your journey, what motivated you to join The Bachelor, and how has that experience shaped your perspective on life and relationships?
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Clayton: I was working this job for five years in medical sales. I just hit my 28th birthday and thought, “Is this all left for me? Is this it?” Thinking that this could be the rest of my life didn’t sit right with me, and I panicked. I knew there was more to life than this, and at the time, I wasn’t happy with some things going on in my work environment, so I began looking at other options.
I ended up getting an offer in my inbox for a new job, and at the same time, someone from The Bachelor team reached out to me on Instagram. I initially thought it was spam, but after asking a few questions, I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t think this change would come in the form of a TV show, but I knew that I could be doing more, and that’s what the show gave me.
When I think about it too, it’s wild because when I was living in Colombia, Missouri, I met this surgeon from Canada who told me that I should try out for it, and then four years later, there I was on the show. It’s very interesting how the universe works!
1AND1: How did you feel when you started filming for the show? Were you overwhelmed or nervous?
Clayton: When I entered the show, I came to find out that it’s a one-shot situation, as in they don’t run the cameras back. You have one shot at all of this, so knowing that I was in my head about getting it right. I’d practice my lines in the limo to get it right. But even if I messed up, you still have to go out there and correct it. It’s basically real life, and everything is happening in real time.
I remember being overwhelmed seeing all of the bright lights, and as I was getting out of the limo or walking out to meet one of the ladies, I was hyper-focusing on my body movements. I was wondering if my arms were swinging too much or how I looked. All of a sudden, all the natural movements like walking and breathing didn’t feel so normal anymore, and it was always in the back of my mind that if anything looked stupid, it was going to be picked up on TV.
1AND1: I’d imagine being on screen and having everyone watch you could have an effect on your mental health. Can you share how you managed to stay true to yourself throughout the process?
Clayton: Growing up, I guess I always had anxiety, but I didn’t know what anxiety felt like because I had never taken the time to learn about the wide spectrum of feelings and their symptoms. I suppressed all of my emotions growing up, and my outlet for that release of emotions was through football. It was my place to be aggressive and angry and take it out on the person in front of me, but I never expressed my emotions by crying or talking about how I felt. I remember I had a conversation with an ex-girlfriend of mine, and she said that when she gets anxious, she likes to be held and consoled.
I remember saying, why don’t you stop thinking about what’s making you anxious? I now know how ignorant that statement was.
So when I felt it while on the show, I wasn’t sure what I was feeling; I just knew there was discomfort. But as I continued getting more into mental health and allowing myself to feel more while on the show, I realized I wasn’t feeling just the positive emotions anymore, but the negative ones too. I got very overwhelmed with these emotions, and I remember thinking, I don’t know if I actually want to go down this path, and I do think that’s where a lot of other men struggle because they feel it for the first time.
I didn’t want to feel those emotions again, but I knew I had to. And over time, I gained more emotional intelligence and was able to better manage it instead of blowing up.
1AND1: As someone who has experienced both the highs and lows of public attention, what advice would you give to individuals navigating their own mental health struggles while under the spotlight?
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Clayton: The one piece of advice I’d give is to make sure you know who you are before going on screen and to look inwardly about who you are. During my time on the show, I was overwhelmed with navigating all of the different relationships and feelings that came with them.
At one point, the producer and I were talking, and I said that I hate that some of these things are falling on my shoulders. All of these bad circumstances kept raining on me, and they said, “But you’re taking credit for all of the good but none of the bad.”
I wasn’t willing to take accountability for certain things at the moment, but after the show was over, I was able to take responsibility and accountability for what was happening during my time on The Bachelor. Looking back on certain scenarios, I now see the role I played, and that has been refreshing doing that and learning how to take accountability without feeling shame. It’s not always easy doing that or being vulnerable in the moment as it is when you think about something you’ve done in your past.
But having more emotional intelligence and letting go of some of my ego has made this easier to do, and admit when I’m struggling. I’d encourage anyone considering going on reality TV to have this in mind and make sure you’re secure in yourself because there are so many different scenarios and variables that will come up. Allow yourself to figure out who you are before you allow others to do that for you.