Video transcript

Liam's story - Anxiety doesn't stop for your AFL career

What is going wrong in your life?

You're an AFL footballer,  you're living your dream.

I couldn't bear to look at myself and go,  'You know what, you probably need help now.'

What does help even look like?

When I was four months old, dad got offered a job to move out to Beijing, and then we moved over to Hong Kong for another six years.

But I just remember playing so much sport.

And that's where I started playing rugby when I was about five or six and that was my introduction to competitive sport and I used to love it.

We first arrived back in Australia early 2010, and three days in I went on my first school camp.

And all I can really remember is just thinking everyone hated me and struggling to fit in.

Eventually I got to a point where I was stressing about where I was sitting at lunchtime, who I was going to speak to during the day, whether I looked like a loner.

I didn't know my first panic attack was a panic attack.

I couldn't figure out a little problem, I threw a pen, slammed my head into my desk, I just had no control over how I was feeling.

I just felt helpless that my mind was taking control of the rest of my body.

I struggled to understand that people like me could have things like this go on because I'd had the picture perfect life so far.

I still remember really intensely how proud I was when I got drafted, and Juddy handed me that jumper.

I think the thing I remember the most is how quickly my emotions changed.

All my exposure to AFL football has been that they live a perfect life, there are no worries.

Frankly it definitely wasn't the case.

You're struggling with this aggressive anxiety disorder but you're still in front of a packed MCG, how does that even break even?

But there's an aspect of being able to hide behind the identity that I have out there and that's probably why it was a safe haven for me when I was playing AFL football and why I struggle so much when I'm not.

Like at the time I really struggled to go back to being me.

How hard that is to conceptualise, that in front  of 80,000 people, you're not under pressure but at home on your own you are.

"Gillon Mclachlan today said that footy always finds a way, and the latest is the entire, all 10 Victorian clubs being now based in Queensland."

I found out the day before that we were flying up to Queensland for 25 days.

Pretty much the second I got up there I realised that something was really off. You know, thoughts of self-harm were well past the point of being worrying.

I sort of started unpacking why I was even in the industry. I hadn't enjoyed any of my first two years and it got to the point where football wasn't necessarily detrimental to me but football could no longer save me.

My plan was to retire and forget about football.

I thought that me escaping football was me escaping my mental health problems.

I didn't like the idea of rehabilitation or didn't like the idea of taking care of my mental health either.

In fact, I had these associations with it that I was a weakling because I had to and all this stuff that I've been prejudiced towards since early childhood.

I'd like to think that I'm tough and angry and all of these things that we think the perfect 80s or 90s footballer is, and that's kind of how I grew up.

When it finally became obvious to other people how much I was battling the amount of time they put into me to fix things was the best thing that ever happened to me.

And that's why I'm so big on telling other people what's going on because often they have a better idea of the picture than you do.

The biggest things for me were the understandings of what was actually going on hormonally in my brain and having some way to justify how I was feeling.

So I had a psychologist, a psychiatrist and medication.

When I finally got to that point where, when I was in a downhill spiral or something like that, how I could come back to terms with, 'alright this is why I'm feeling this way, these are the little things that I can do to to get away from it, or give myself a second and get back in the moment. Knowing who I've got in my corner as well so I don't feel alone even when I'm struggling.

I now realise my purpose in football might be a little bit bigger than just being good at it.

I'm gonna do everything in my power to make people feel like suffering like this is okay.

I'm an AFL footballer but I can be human.

I don't have to be this super tough guy.

I know other people struggle, I know everyone does.

And that's what makes it okay for me too.


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