International Volleyball

Savvy Simo “turning anxiety into a superpower” by opening up on mental health

Savvy Simo

HERMOSA BEACH, California — Four straight points had Savvy Simo given up in the final round of the Stare Jablonki Challenge qualifier when the colorful language of a perpetual and audible self-talking beach volleyball player began to flow. Four-letter words of every variety, loud enough for the smattering of fellow USA players at the end of the court to respond with words of encouragement. She was fine! Simo and Abby Van Winkle were still well in control of their second-round qualifying match vs. China’s Jie Dong and Jingzhe Wang.

The positivity shocked Simo. Not because she didn’t necessarily expect support from her friends. It’s just that she hadn’t really been thinking about the match at all. She barely recognized the fact that the lead was dwindling and she was playing well below her usually lofty standards.

In that moment, Savvy Simo was focused, simply, on putting one foot in front of the other, battling an inner dialogue in which she “thought,” she said afterwards, that “I was going to die.”


That moment in Poland was unusual but not an uncommon one.

Simo has suffered from panic attacks, which come on quick as a hiccup and remain for an unconscionably long time, for as long as she can remember. As a child of 4 or 5 years old, as she remembers it, whenever her parents would leave home, go out to dinner, visit friends, and she would call to check in, if they didn’t answer the phone, she’d think they died in a car accident. This would, of course, cause her heart rate to elevate, accelerating the oncoming panic attack “and then,” she says, “I think I’m going to die even more.”

Soon, this spread into nearly every area of her life.

Headache? “I’m having a brain aneurism.”

Chest hurts? “Heart attack.”

“There’s no in between,” she said. “Crazy stuff like that.”

She’s 20 years or so past the first time she can recall having a panic attack. She’s better at managing them now, keen on seeing the warning signs and nipping them before they roil into full on tempests. But there are also certain days and occasions and moments when Simo, try as she might, can do nothing to stop the oncoming storm.

“It ebbs and flows,” she says. “Certain phases of my life are worse where I feel crippled by this. There are some days that are worse than others where I’m exhausted and I just need to go sleep.”

In an age where mental health is coming to the forefront not…

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