Former 'Bachelor' Clayton Echard opens up about mental health, body dysmorphia and 'train wreck' season

Former Bachelor Clayton Echard is opening up about the downsides of his run on the reality show and sharing how he's pivoting to use his platform for good.

The 29-year-old former NFL player caught people's attention with his conventionally attractive looks before leading Season 26 of ABC's The Bachelor. As people formed their opinions about the way that he dated his way through 30 women on television, they made sure to let him know.

"The hatred by way of numbers was really hard for me to overcome," he said in an interview with the Virginian-Pilot. "Had it just been a few messages I would’ve passed it off. Had it been hundreds of messages, I might have questioned it. ... But for me, it was thousands of messages, and in a very short period of time, so it became very overwhelming."

Seeing the way that his journey was edited for TV made Echard question his own behavior, too.

"Watching it back, I was embarrassed and disgusted by my actions and the way I was portrayed or seen on TV," he explained, noting that he experienced depression and anxiety as the season aired. "Ultimately, I had to live with the fact that my narrative is what was shown. And that was hard because that’s not really who I am. I don’t feel that what I was on the show is who I truthfully am but I did those things, I became that person."

Echard's time on the show was ultimately successful as he found love with contestant Susie Evans, who he reconciled with before the show's reunion and now lives with in Virginia Beach. Even still, he called his season a "train wreck" and is hoping to alter his public persona by speaking out about things that matter most to him.

"Everything becomes a lot more exciting when you feel as though you've finally found your true purpose in life. Through the experiences that I've lived and grown from, I am now chasing the passions that I’ve had all along, but never felt that I had the voice or courage to talk so openly about," he captioned an Instagram post on June 3. "Mental health is something we all deal with and it's not going anywhere. We need to recognize this, but take it a step further. We need to have the conversations."

While the cyberbullying that he's faced as a result of his time on television has contributed to the conversations he's now having with students across the country as a part of a national speaking tour, Echard also reflected on his struggle with body dysmorphia. He also shared that being on The Bachelor encouraged him to speak out about it.

"Going on the show was a catalyst for me feeling as though I can do this. It’s something that I'm passionate about, and I want to be able to impact others," he said, noting the solace he felt when he was able to put a name to the obsessive thoughts he was having about his body since he was young. "I want to be able to be a light for them, to say 'Hey, listen, I was there as well. I was able to overcome this.'"

And although overcoming taxing mental health struggles in the public eye may be difficult, Echard explained that he's had to block out a lot of the noise in order to focus on bettering himself.

"I’m just being my authentic self. I’m not trying to be The Bachelor at this point," he said. "I just know that being a good bachelor or being a bad bachelor doesn’t equate to being a good or bad person."

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