Interview With Jamie Blyth

Former Bachelorette Contestant Jamie Blyth Talks About Anxiety

Jamie Blyth is best known for appearing as a contestant on the first season of the ABC reality television show The Bachelorette. Jamie made it through several rose ceremonies but was eventually sent home by Trista Rehn, who ended up choosing and later marrying, Ryan Sutter.

Unbeknownst to fellow Bachelorette contestants at the time, Jamie was dealing with more than just normal jitters about being on TV.

Jamie suffered his first panic attack in 1994. From the ages of 19 to 24 he battled panic and social anxiety that left him afraid to attend college classes and see friends.

Although he briefly tried medication and therapy, Jamie eventually settled on a course of action that involved working on what he believed to be the cause of his anxiety: low self-esteem.

His "Panic Plan" involved immersing himself in positivity. He flooded himself with positive quotes. He read biographies of successful people in all walks of life such as George Washington, Lance Armstrong, and Hellen Keller. In Jamie's words, he "wanted to study the opposite of anxiety and adopt the attitude that runs polar to the one that creates anxiety."

He entered an intense and challenging technology sales job. "If you missed your quota two months in a row you were fired… 99% of people did not make it past 6 months." Jamie then went on to play professional basketball in Europe. Appearing on The Bachelorette was another way to test himself and see what he could handle.

The first public interview in which Jamie talked about his anxiety disorder was with Diane Sawyer. He later went on to appear on Oprah Winfrey and other national shows.

Since appearing on the Bachelorette Jamie has been a reporter, model, inner-city baseball coach, public speaker and author. His book "Fear is No Longer My Reality" is a chronicle of how he overcame panic and social anxiety disorder.

In speaking with Jamie, he emphasized that his primary motivator is helping others build their confidence and self-esteem. His advice for building self-esteem is to set short-term goals and raise the bar after each small victory.

Q: How would you describe life after your first panic attack?

A: My life was altered forever after my first panic attack. It was always lurking, waiting to strike again. I lived in utter terror and constant fear of the next panic attack, which only happened around people. I lived on the brink of a nervous breakdown at all times.

I avoided people at all costs, which created massive loneliness and only made the condition worse. I could not seek help as I was afraid of seeing someone I knew and having a panic attack in front of them.

It was a vicious spiral and my condition intensified. Pretty soon, the only world I knew was one of panic, pain, depression, and loneliness.

Q: What was it like being in college and dealing with an anxiety disorder?

A: I made it through college by perfecting a routine of staying within my comfort zone. I veered away from most public places and classes that mandated speeches. I actually felt comfortable by the end of college but I really wasn't living life.

During graduation, I remember everyone looked so happy and excited to get out into the real world and take on life. I felt the opposite. I knew I was about to be exposed. How was I going to enter the real world without being able to talk to people? I had hidden my condition pretty well, but my time was up.

Q: How did you overcome your panic and social anxiety?

A: When I was 22 years old the future seemed insurmountable, I had a choice … fight or quit. And when I say quit, I mean suicide. That's how low I was. I chose to fight.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

I realized that my physiological symptoms triggered panic attacks. For example, when I was about to give a presentation and I felt that surge of fear in my stomach and my face went red and my air was tight and my heart raced … I knew I was about to experience a panic attack.

I had to acclimate myself to the fear until these physiological symptoms lost their effect and my mind did not link a racing heart with a panic attack. I did that by immersing myself constantly in the very thing I was afraid of … people.

I realized that I had created anxiety with my thoughts, actions, and choices. If I had created it and learned it, why couldn't I unlearn it and reprogram myself? That was the gamble I took and it paid off. My greatest strength is now being around people. Pain is a great teacher at times.

Q: Why did you choose to battle the disorder yourself?

A: I did not go to therapy mostly because it would be tough to go through talk therapy when my greatest fear was talking to people.

Q: What did going through this experience teach you? Were there any positives from dealing with anxiety?

A: Anxiety was the best thing that ever happened to me. All of my successes are a direct result of anxiety and I feel blessed for having experienced it.

Anxiety was my propeller, my teacher, and my motivator. It forced me to address my self-esteem issues. It forced me to be more demanding of myself, to break out of my comfort zone and grow personally beyond my wildest dreams.

Had I just taken medication, I might have been okay, but I would not have been top salesperson for 4 years or become a TV reporter and host. I would not have written a book and become a public speaker or sat in a chair next to Oprah in front of 20 million people.

Q: Some people might be confused about how someone who was the class clown and had lots of friends growing up could suffer from social phobia. Were people that you grew up with surprised by your diagnosis?

A: People that grew up with me were shocked. People with social anxiety, panic disorder, and depression put on good fronts. I was very popular and as you said I was the class clown.

I hid it from my friends during the suffering and yes they were shocked. They were also instrumental in helping me through it ... especially Joe Cheff, Brian Loftus, Bob Guiney, Brian Musso and my mother.

Q: What advice do you have for people experiencing anxiety?

A: Realize that your current reality does not dictate your future. Things can change quickly for the better.

Monitor your self-talk. Don't beat yourself up for shortcomings. Choose to be positive even when life is throwing a sh*t sandwich at you and you feel terrible.

Eat good foods, and avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. There are millions of people that feel exactly the same way you do. Build a support group. Go online and interact with people that suffer as well.

Confront the pain instead of hiding and avoiding. There is no magic pill … it takes time, hard work, perseverance, and determination.

Q: If you could tell your 19-year-old self-anything, what would it be?

A: I know how scared you are. I know you are scared and you can't see beyond this pain and you can't imagine talking to a girl let alone Oprah in front of millions.

Your past does not equal your future. Panic and social phobia could be the best things that have ever happened to you. Five years from now they will lead to things beyond your wildest dreams and speaking to people will become your greatest strength.

I would say … you can do it! Fight! You have courage that you don't even realize you have. I know the pain you are in now, but I am telling you, it does not have to be that way forever. Use your pain to elevate yourself and others.

Q: What made you decide to tell the world about what you were going through?

A: I know firsthand how terrifying life is with social phobia and panic disorder. I was lucky to make it through and I feel a sense of commitment and compassion for people who are experiencing it.

Anxiety can hit anyone at any time. Since the show, a lot of very successful people dealing with sudden onset anxiety and panic have approached me for answers or said that I have helped them with my story.

I want to tell that high school kid, business person or mother who is dealing with her suffering child that they are not alone. There are millions of people feeling the same way; pain unites us and it can be turned into a positive.

Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?

A: "If there is no struggle, there is no progress." … Frederick Douglass. Or "Whether you think you can or you can't, you're right"... I believe Henry Ford said that.

Q: Do you ever still have panic attacks?

A: I still have my days in the dark and always will. I have not had a full-blown panic attack in nine years, but I know it's possible that I will have one or many for that matter.

I also know that it can be overcome if I choose to prepare and fight. Overcome might not be the right word … managed. If I experience panic again, that does not mean my life is over or totally limited. I hope I have the courage to get back in the ring.

Q: What have you been doing since being on the Bachelorette and writing your book?

A: Since the show, I have been living a pretty normal life. I play a ton of golf. I have trained athletes and been VP of sales for a company in Chicago. I have done TV reporting for NBC and have interviewed celebrities such as Lebron James, John Cusack, Kim Kardashian, Hugh Laurie, Chelsea Handler and many more.

Update (October 24, 2015): Jamie has continued his work as a celebrity host while successfully managing his social anxiety. He is truly an inspiration!

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."