/ FACES Magazine May/June 2017
AJ Mendez Brooks
Like many other superheroes, AJ grew up as an awkward child from humble beginnings who didn’t realize the power that she possessed until years later.
AJ overcame long odds and seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve her dreams. She not only made it to the WWE, but she became the Women’s Champion on multiple occasions. Mendez Brooks is credited with starting a ‘women’s revolution’ of sorts in the WWE, one that saw women no longer used by the company as merely attractive valets—they began to be treated as athletes, hired for their ability and talent.
While she achieved an incredible amount of success during her WWE career, her superpowers go far beyond. Through her incredible book, “Crazy is My Superpower” AJ Mendez Brooks will inspire many people around the world to look at their struggles differently. We recently caught up with her to talk about her incredible story.
FM: On April 4th, your book, “Crazy Is My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts and Breaking the Rules” is released around the world, how are you feeling leading up to its release? Are you nervous about opening up to the world in this way? Or, is it an empowering feeling for you?
AM: The days leading up to publication were for sure the scariest days of my life. I am normally painfully private, so being so honest and vulnerable was quite a departure for me. But releasing my dark and painful past into the world has been incredibly liberating and healing. While people are listening to what I have to say it is my responsibility to say something worthwhile. Knowing that people are taking positive messages out of this book has been really gratifying and melts away any trepidation I had going in.
FM: You speak openly about dealing with mental illness and how you’ve fought to turn what society perceived as a negative, into something incredibly powerful for you. Why do you think that society has always treated mental illness as a taboo subject?
AM: The only time mental illness is a part of mainstream media is when a starlet has had a breakdown, or an actor has committed suicide, or when a character on a TV show is a stalker/crazy ex/mad man in a salacious storyline. It’s always showcased in this dark, ominous, intimidating point of view. We only see these illnesses at their very worst, and so it’s understandable when people are afraid to be in any way associated with them. No one ever just comes out as having a mental health condition without some sort of apology attached. My goal was to come out as bipolar with no strings attached. And to show the world that mental illness only has as much power as we give it. If we can openly talk about having it, talk about how manageable it can be, and discuss the many positives it can bring into a person’s life the stigma will start to fade away. We just need to start a conversation about it.
FM: Your book will undoubtedly inspire and empower many people who deal with mental illness—and that is an incredible accomplishment. Was this your goal when you decided to write the book? Do you feel a new purpose in your life to become someone who can and will help those who currently suffer in silence?
AM: When I first seriously considered writing this book I wasn’t even sure if I would come out as Bipolar. But as I started to formulate every chapter, I saw a common thread. In my darkest times, mental illness formed my reality. In my best times, Bipolar disorder gave me strength. It was this constant in my life that made me who I am. And I very much like who I am. I began to realize that my favorite parts of my personality, the qualities that got me to the top, were once qualities I was ashamed that my disorder had distorted. And so the theme of the book just really wrote itself. I realized it was my responsibility to share this piece of myself with the world to maybe help others be more comfortable with and eventually find pride in their own mental health conditions. Seeing the response so far, I feel like I’ve completed that mission and I just want to keep fighting the good fight.
FM: How long did the book take for you to write? Can you describe to us your experience as an author? Did you write every day, waking up and sitting by your computer? Or was it something that took you a lot of stops and starts over time to finally get into the rhythm?
AM: The book took a few drafts and a few rounds of edits that probably took up the better part of a year. All the promo and planning after took about another year. I was writing it alone without a cowriter or ghostwriter and the weight of that is definitely felt when you sit down at the computer for the first time. It’s really intimidating. Some days I would write for six hours straight without stopping. The memories would just spill out of me. Other days I would have to walk away from the computer and cry when a chapter touched a wound that hadn’t yet healed. And other days literally nothing got accomplished besides a box of cookies getting devoured. It really was a crapshoot. But I basically spent every day forcing myself to sit still in a chair for 6-8 hours at least trying to get something good on the page. It was intense but completely worth it.
FM: Did you enjoy the book writing experience? Do you think you will write more books in the future or was this the story you had to tell and now that it’s told, you are happy moving on to new challenges?
AM: I liken it to what I hear childbirth is like. It’s mind numbingly painful as it’s happening, but the second it’s over you start thinking about doing it all over again. As hard as it was, I found writing to be a strength of mine I had long abandoned. It felt great to accomplish something that once felt impossible. I’m already working on number two.
FM: You are well known around the world for your time with World Wrestling Entertainment. Do you miss that world at all? Or are you moved past that stage of your life and focused on the next chapters?
AM: I always say you have to remember and appreciate the past, plan for the future, but focus on the present. I am so proud of my wrestling career and incredibly excited for this next chapter of my life.
FM: Do you have a favourite moment, match or memory of your time in WWE?
AM: I really enjoyed my stuff with Kaitlyn and with Vickie. It was always fascinating and gratifying to see how much of a positive reaction women could get from the crowd in a time when that was very difficult.
FM: Who was the first person you called the night that you won your first WWE Women’s Championship (then known as the Divas Championship) in June of 2013?
AM: I don’t think I called anyone. I’m sure I texted some family and friends while heading to the next town. But that moment felt like the end of a lifetime in service to a dream. It had been such a long road to get to the top and I really just spent that night looking within, thinking of my younger self and hoping that little girl was relieved and proud.
FM: For your fans who know you only through the character you played in WWE, how similar was the AJ Lee they saw on TV with the AJ Mendez Brooks in real life.
AM: We’re both likely to shank someone. We are both quick to fly off the handle and even quicker to speak our minds. We’re both fiercely dedicated to the people we love. She’s probably a lot meaner than I am.
FM: Since we’re a Canadian magazine, we have to bring up the NHL! Your husband is a huge Chicago Blackhawks fan—are you a hockey fan as well? If so, did he lure you over to the Hawks? Or being a Jersey girl, are you loyal to the Devils?
AJ: I know nothing about sports but I really enjoy the snack food items at my local arenas. You can really get me to go almost anywhere if there is the promise of a giant soft pretzel. Watching hockey live is an intense experience unlike any other sport, especially with these diehard Chicago fans. It is pretty much the only sport I can actually get into, though I mostly just enjoy the fistfights.
FM: You’ve accomplished an incredible amount in your life and you just turned 30. You wrote a book, you are a champion to many around the world who suffer with mental illness and you reached the pinnacle of Women’s Wrestling in the WWE. Looking back on it all, what are you most proud of to date?
AM: I am proud to have come from absolute rock bottom and have made something of my life. I am really proud of just setting these impossible goals and taking a thousand tiny steps to reach them.
FM: What advice would 30 year old AJ Mendez Brooks give to her 13 year old self—if you were able to go back in time, with the benefit of knowing all the things you know now. What advice would you give yourself knowing the road that was to come ahead?
AM: Some things you have to learn the hard way. Sometimes you have to go through the rough patches to become the best version of yourself. So I wouldn’t warn her too much, but I would give her that hug and assurance she so desperately craved and let her know everything is going to be ok because she will make it so. I would however ask her to rethink getting those bangs.
FM: If you could talk to someone right now, who sees your story and thinks they couldn’t possibly do it, or who suffers from mental illness and feels like they have no hope, what advice would you give them?
AM: What people who are struggling with mental health issues need to hear more than anything is that they are not alone. So many people struggle in silence and are just afraid to reach out and let others know. Mental illness isn’t a curse, it is the ability to see the world in different colors. I hope my story will help them understand that anything is possible, that these disorders are manageable, and that they really can be assets.
FM: Your book is going to change a lot of people’s lives and inspire many who currently suffer in silence or shame. We want to congratulate you on writing an important book and telling your story. Do you have any plans to bring your book tour to Canada?
AM: It has been a whirlwind and a truly moving experience. I’m always down to go to Canada. You guys have Tim Hortons, nuff said.