Player Column | Chris Luff Round 9

Saturday, September 12, 2020 - 11:30 AM by Chris Luff

I WAS asked to talk about my battle with concussion in this column and when thinking back to how bad things got at one point, it caused me to develop such bad anxiety to the point where just going out to have a beer with my mates was a real struggle.

It was just the fact that everything that I did brought on the symptoms I'd suffer from the concussion. I was just scared to do anything to trigger it. It got to the point where I had to quit my job. I was working in my trade as a boilermaker but I just couldn’t function to do that anymore. When I had to stop working in my trade and then went to study personal training, even just to try and read books and study, and get through a day as a student was really hard as well.

It was just such a slow, long grind to get through every day. I'd liken it to when you'd walk outside and you would know it's a nice day with the sun shining and everything, but for me that would all be blanketed by this fog which would dull all my senses. It dulled my smell, I had really bad hypersensitivity to light so couldn’t stay in the sun or it would hurt my eyes and I'd get bad headaches which turned into migraines.

So for something as simple as wanting to go out and have a beer with mates, that became pretty much impossible because even being around the noise there would bring on the headaches for me which would become unbearable.

It's fair to say I was in a pretty bad way there for a while, but looking back to what caused it in the first place and I just came back too early after getting a concussion initially. It was the middle of the season playing against West Perth and I got slung tackled and then needed six weeks off footy after that, but even then I still had symptoms with the headaches. But I wanted to do anything I could to get back into the side so I convinced the doctor and myself that I was OK to play, but ultimately coming back too early from that without allowing myself to fully recover and then getting another knock is what really caused the whole problems I ended up suffering.

So straight after that all of my symptoms multiplied and were heightened, and everything just doubled down and got so much harder. Work got harder and ended up becoming impossible, and life got harder and trying to live with the symptoms days in and day out became harder. No one could tell me what was going on and the doctors I'd see would tell me the same shit about sitting in a dark room and waiting it out, but it just wasn’t helping. It wasn’t until six months after that when I actually realised what I should have been doing.

By this point people were starting to understand about CTE, but a lot of the doctors I saw weren’t really up to date with the most recent science about it and unless they are actively trying to learn about it, then they just aren’t privy to it. It doesn’t make them bad doctors, but they just weren’t up with the most recent science so I had to do some research on my own and find someone who actually did know what to do and could do something to help me.

It probably took a period of nine months but eventually I found out about a doctor in Sydney and that was when I had started studying, and had finished up as a tradie and I had no income coming in. This guy was ridiculously expensive but I went to the footy club and told them about him, and explained how he was my only option and I had exhausted all other avenues. So it was the footy club who helped me get over there help the process and I'm forever in debt to Pete Christie in particular. They really did save me.

Then when I got over to Sydney, it helped me immediately just to learn that I had a pathway out of this. It just made me feel a hell of a lot better to get a plan of attack, and it was the first time I had someone tell me the things I needed to knock off to start the process. That relieved the anxiety immediately in a lot of ways and it was just super simple things.

I was already a healthy guy but the first thing was to change my diet to promote better gut health. Gut health and brain health are directly linked so the healthier my gut could be, that was going to aide the recovery of my brain. And within two weeks of changing a couple of things I noticed a difference.

I was over in Sydney for two days and I remember getting out of the clinic and still stressing heaps about the cost of it all, but as soon as I sat down and had a look at the plan with what I had to do I think my journey to recovery really started. Within two weeks of changing a few things it started to get better and that was in March of 2018. Then by June I went out and played footy with Railways Football Club so that was a massive step for me.

It was still a massive step to play again. It was so daunting driving out to my first game and as I was heading out to Northam that day, my anxiety was skyrocketing again. I was worried what would happen if I got another knock and to be honest I thought about pulling my car into the ditch on the side of the road just so I had a reason to call up and say I couldn’t play. That's how much I was stressing out. But I got out there for the first game and I had copped a couple of hip and shoulders, and was OK, and then the relief I felt from there just took a huge weight off my shoulders. I started to enjoy my footy from there and it was more relief than anything that I had nothing to worry about.

I could have never got the help I did over in Sydney without the help of the people at the South Fremantle Football Club and to be honest could never have afforded it, but I had stayed in touch with Pete Christie and he assured me that Chris Luff the person was bigger than Chris Luff the footballer so I didn’t owe the club anything. They just wanted to see me happy and healthy, so for me that was a huge relief as well. 

At that stage, I never thought about playing WAFL again and I was happy just back playing football and then I thought I was done when we won the premiership. I thought that would do me in football and I had ticked off everything I wanted to. But then one more thing kept popping up and the first one was to play with the Tiwi Bombers. I then really enjoyed that and I just kept on enjoying my football, and I realised looking back now that I did have unfinished business of wanting to finish in the WAFL on my terms. I didn’t want to be forced out on injury so that's when I decided to give it another go with South Fremantle.

Then after deciding to come back, COVID-19 came along and made us all have to wait a long time for the season. But I got out there for the first couple of games and things went pretty well and then I had another hiccup when I hurt my ankle early on against Claremont in Round 3. Initially I was pretty frustrated but once I had my little whinge I got over that and the best thing my concussion has given me is a perspective of how bad things can get. So small things like that, as much as it was annoying to miss another five weeks, aren’t that bad in the big picture and it wasn’t season-ending so I knew I'd have a chance to get back into the team.

I try not to let my mind wander too far down the track about what we might achieve this year, but it's hard to ignore at the same time. To think that I might only have four weeks of WAFL football left in me, I'm just trying to breathe and live every single moment and second of training and being around the boys, and game day. I just know how quickly things can disappear so I'm trying to live in every moment that comes my way because if I look too far ahead, before I know it then it will be all over. 

Obviously the premiership would be a fairytale for the football club, it would be an amazing thing and to have alongside your name, but at the same time I know life isn’t full of fairytales. That would be a wonderful thing, but the thing I'll miss most about football is the camaraderie with the boys, the training and the blood, sweat and tears of everything you all put into it together. That's what I enjoy, the rest is just a bonus.