Anxiety Drives Clay Aiken to Paxil

ByABC News via logo
September 24, 2008, 3:39 PM

Sept. 20, 2006 — -- He was the North Carolina boy who made it big on "American Idol."

But for Clay Aiken, fame came with a price.

"Clay, don't take this the wrong way, but I prefer you when I shut my eyes," said "Idol" judge Simon Cowell to Aiken after one performance.

It was one thing to smile through the brutal poison darts fired off by Cowell, but yet another to be Aiken this past year.

The tabloids took aim at everything from his sexual orientation to his mental equilibrium.

The late-night comedians launched a nonstop assault, making jokes that were initially funny to Aiken but eventually took their toll.

So this year, Aiken moved back home to Raleigh.

"I need to get out of Hollywood," he told Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America."

Aiken, the geeky, skinny kid, who was bullied by his classmates, is no stranger to tough times.

He experienced the trauma of his sister's suicide and has worried about his brother, a Marine now fighting in Iraq.

"I always prided myself on the fact that I was able to handle this on my own, pray about it, talk to my family, talk to my friends, and just get through it, you know, being tough," Aiken said.

But eventually the fame and ferocity of public inspection started to take a physical toll when he walked into a public room.

He often felt like he was going to have a heart attack when he would make public appearances. So, Aiken decided to talk to his doctor.

"I said, 'Listen, here's the, here's the thing. I don't understand why I feel like I'm gonna have a heart attack when I go into these rooms. I don't get it," he said.

Aiken's doctor said that he was experiencing symptoms of panic attacks.

"When I am in the room, the walls are closing in on me and my heart races, and I didn't understand it," Aiken said. "I would look back and say, 'Why are your, why are your palms sweaty? What's the problem?'"