NEW YORK - Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern,  has said she “fell in love” with Bill Clinton during a tearful speech describing the pain of being made into a figure of global humiliation.

“Frankly, I came close to disintegrating. No, it’s not too strong a word. I wish it were, but it isn’t,” Lewinsky, now 41, said Monday at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia. “A relentless mantra in my head: I want to die.”

It was her first ever public address, and she said she wanted “to give purpose to my past” by campaigning against a toxic internet culture that relentlessly hounds individuals in the news.

She described herself as “the first person to have [had] their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the internet” and spoke about her part in the affair that nearly ended Clinton’s presidency.

“I fell in love with my boss in a 22-year-old sort of a way,” she told the summit. “But my boss was the President of the United States.” “In 1995 we started an affair that lasted, on and off, for two years. And at that time, it was my everything. That, I guess you could say, was the golden bubble part for me; the nice part. The nasty part was that it became public. Public with a vengeance.” Ms Lewinsky’s affair with the world’s most powerful man began and she was 25-years-old when it exploded into the public view. Lurid coverage of the sex scandal was fueled by early incarnations of online gossip sites in what Ms Lewinsky called “a viral phenomenon that, you could argue, was the first moment of truly ‘social media’. “Staring at the computer screen, I spent the day shouting: ‘Oh my God’ and ‘I can’t believe they put that in’ or ‘That’s so out of context’. And those were the only thoughts that interrupted a relentless mantra in my head: I want to die,” she said.

Ms Lewinsky said she plans to devote herself to changing the culture of an internet that routinely destroys and humiliates people in the public eye. She said she became committed to the cause after reading about Tyler Clementi, a US university student who killed himself in 2010 after his roommate secretly filmed him with a man and released the footage online. Ms Lewinsky said his death reminded her of how she too was “periodically suicidal” as the world’s media pursued her in 1998. “Having survived myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive,” she said. “I want to put my suffering to use and give purpose to my past.” Ms Lewinsky has spent most of the past decade out of sight but has recently begun taking small steps back into public life as an occasional columnist for Vanity Fair.