AJ Mendez Brooks on Wrestling the Stigma of Bipolar

The retired WWE star, formerly known as AJ Lee, is fighting in a brand new arena: She is telling her story to take down stigma.

Growing up to be a professional wrestler isn’t every little girl’s dream, but it was for A.J. Mendez Brooks. The former WWE star was once a scrawny, awkward kid, growing up poor with parents who had unaddressed mental health issues. She talks about that and more in the straight-shooting, funny memoir Crazy Is My Superpower—including getting diagnosed with bipolar II at age 20.


You’re married to another retired wrestler, CM Punk (Phil Brooks). Any smackdowns at home?

We’re very fortunate to have a fully equipped home gym and even our dog will join in for “family workouts,” though he’s really only interested in chewing the battle ropes. I like to think the family that does squats together, stays together.


Wrestling performances were an outlet for your energy and anger. How do you channel that now?

If I go more than three days without lifting weights and doing cardio, I can feel my brain start to get a little foggy. Feeling physically strong reminds me that I am powerful and in control. I’ve also rediscovered a childhood method of channeling that energy: writing. I found solace in the fantastical worlds of video games and comic books as a girl, and began writing my own to always have a security blanket at hand. Writing my book brought back a joy and peace I’d long forgotten.


What else helps?

Everyone has a method for treating their disorder—be it therapy, medication, meditation—and I need a bit of everything. I consider therapy a spa day for my brain and heart. I consider medication an invaluable helping hand.

I know starting out it can seem intimidating, but finding the right formula for you can actually be a fun and enlightening experience. I have tried everything, kept an open mind, and have landed on the right combo for me to live my most fulfilling life.


You’re working on a book focused on self-help coping advice. How about a sneak peek?

One particular piece of advice I give to my fellow impulsive loudmouths is: “Sleep on it.” My sharp tongue can cut to the bone sometimes. So I’ve taught myself, at least when dealing with loved ones, to not express my opinions or hurt feelings until the next morning. Sometimes you wake up and realize you aren’t really that mad and it was just the crazy trying to get out.


“Crazy” isn’t exactly a PC word. Why use it in the title of your memoir?

“Crazy” isn’t PC because it is always used in a derogatory way. It has been used to shame people into believing they are flawed in some way. But I believe perceived flaws can become strengths with just a simple shift of perspective. Using it in the title was a deliberate decision to reclaim the word. I am taking “crazy” back.


And how is bipolar disorder a superpower?

I see bipolar disorder as the gift of extraordinary emotions. It makes me bold, brave, loud, and capable of withstanding whatever obstacles the world throws at me. It has made me empathetic. It has given me a lofty imagination, a belief in the impossible, and has made me confident beyond reason. I was 90 pounds and 5 feet tall and believed I could succeed in the world of giants. I believed I could go from beating on people for a living to writing a best-seller because I didn’t have that voice of doubt holding me back.


Why go public with your diagnosis?

At autograph signings when I was wrestling, little girls would hug me and cry and tell me that my character of being “the Crazy Chick” [one of her WWE personas] made them feel less insecure about the depression they were going through. They felt represented. After I retired, it felt like it was my responsibility to continue that representation, on a larger, more genuine scale. We’re all in this fight against feeling shamed for being different, together.


Printed as “Back Chat: AJ Mendez Brooks”, Summer 2017