Ashley McBryde Admits She Struggled With 'Really, Really Bad' Anxiety After Loss of Brother

Singer-songwriter Ashley McBryde was just beginning to see the long-awaited – and hard-earned – fruits of her labor with her music last year, when life handed her a heart-wrenching blow, with the loss of her brother Clay. The 53-year-old passed away unexpectedly, leaving behind a wife and son. McBryde is now opening up about that painful experience, and what life was like for her while she dealt with his devastating death.

"I developed anxiety really, really, really bad right after Clay died," McBryde told PEOPLE. "I mean, they were bad panic attacks. They are under control now, but I didn't understand what was going on."

The Arkansas native kept touring, all while mourning the loss of her sibling.

"You keep your feet moving or you will completely fall apart," McBryde said. "As women, we don't allow ourselves the falling apart time nearly enough. Luckily my body and my psyche has decided to choose those moments for me now."

McBryde remembers how challenging the early days for her were, after Clay's death, where everything kept moving at a rapid pace.

"At night [the anxiety] would come out in really weird ways," she recalled. "We were in Europe after he died and I got in such a weird place about what we were doing. The schedule was so hectic and I was like, 'Man, is this what all of this is?'"

Those moments ultimately gave McBryde clarity about what was and wasn't important to her.

"I had to pull my head out of my a–– and be like, 'Yeah, this is what it is. You are built for this life. I have to do this or I might die, but also someone in that audience needs you,'" McBryde recounted.

"I said to myself, 'It's not about you, so get over yourself,'" she continued. "If someone is having a s—ty day and they need to be free for an hour, where their bills aren't late and their husband isn't mad at them and the dog isn't sick … as long as I am there on stage, everything is OK for them. Nobody cares if I'm hung-over or if I'm sad or if I'm tired or if I got s—ty news this morning. They care how they feel. And in the end, that's all I care about."

The 36-year-old wrote about Clay's death on her upcoming new album, delving into the myriad of emotions she has experienced since he has been gone.

"Songwriting is very therapeutic for me," McBryde recently shared with PopCulture.com and other media.

"It doesn't have to be scary just because it's sad," she maintained. "I didn't expect it to make the record, and I knew when we wrote it – I started to tear up. We were talking back and forth, smoking cigarettes. I laughed, and I'm like, 'Oh my god, I sound like Clay when I laugh."

McBryde is nominated for her first CMA Award this year, for New Artist of the Year. The 2019 ACM Awards will air live from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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Photo Credit: Getty images / Erika Goldring