Brian Zak caught up with AJ to talk to her about her battle with bipolar II disorder. And it is amazing.
Former three-time WWE Divas champion AJ Mendez Brooks was beloved for her stage persona as a vengeful ex-girlfriend, but she had her limits for how far she would take her “crazy.”
In 2012, Brooks (aka AJ Lee) was due to take part in a series of goofy skits in which her character hallucinated, kissed a leprechaun and danced with dinosaurs from outer space. But, as a real-life secret sufferer of bipolar II disorder, and the daughter of a mom with the same condition, she couldn’t go through with it.
“It felt like it disrespected both me and my mother,” says the 30-year-old, who at the time was only public about her mother’s mental illness. “It was a joke, but, to me, it wasn’t something to laugh at.” As punishment for her refusal to do the skit, she was taken off TV for two months.
And as they go on - one sees why she refused.
Self-conscious and anxiety-ridden as a kid, Brooks sought comfort in playing video games and fantasizing about superheroes. The WWE, particularly the female wrestlers, captured her imagination, and she would play out fights with her older brother, Robbie, copying the moves.
“I felt weak and powerless, then I looked at the TV screen and there’s a bunch of tiny women in control, powerful and strong. I was like: ‘I’m going to do that for sure,’” she says.
But her anxiety became crippling as she got older. “I was like a Chihuahua during a thunderstorm,” she says. “Every second, I felt like I was on edge.”
At 14, she developed chronic insomnia plus a tic in her neck — something her bipolar mom tried to correct by forcing her under a freezing cold shower.
Brooks was diagnosed with bipolar II in her late teens and successfully treated with a combination of therapy, medicine and meditation. She also turned to exercise, channeling her energy into wrestling at local gyms.
Having retired from the WWE last year at the top of her game, she is now working to spread the message with groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She wants others to know there is hope.
She says: “My memoir is called ‘Crazy Is My Superpower’ because whatever you are ashamed of or feel insecure about, you can harness into your greatest strength.”
Seek help. It is out there. Even if your parents forced cold showers on you...
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