Former WWE Superstar, 3-time Divas champion, animal welfare advocate and New York Times bestselling author AJ Mendez Brooks joined the Wrestling Compadres this week on FOX Sports, and she had an important message to share.
The performer and all-around superhero also known as AJ Lee released a memoir earlier this month entitled CrazyIs My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules, in which she discusses her treatment for depression, her subsequent diagnosis with bipolar disorder, her rough childhood, and a suicide attempt Mendez didn’t realize was happening in the moment.
Before she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and while she was taking anti-depressants, Mendez overdosed on prescription painkillers in an effort to stop feeling the pain of her mental illness, a story she tells in the book:
CARRLYN: “There was a dark part in the book, where I want to say it scared me. I read it, and it shook me to the core, because it sounded just so awful, and seeing you do what you do, I wanted to think, ‘That would never happen to her.’
“And it was when you found out you weren’t just depressed, you were bipolar. And it sounded like an overdose, but you didn’t even know at that time what was going on and what was going through your brain and your body.
“For someone that might be at that point in their life, or for someone that doesn’t know what’s wrong with them, is there any advice that you can give them?“
MENDEZ: “The first draft of the book didn’t have that, because I had chickened out hard, and was just like, ‘Okay, I’m going to tell this story, and tell people to open up and be brave about mental illness.’ And then I chickened out and was really ashamed of myself.
“And so the second draft came in, and I saw these edits, and I was like, ‘Hey, can I get like three pages to change this chapter?’ And they let me do it, and I was just like, ‘Okay, I have to put my money where my mouth is.‘
“When I refer to that incident with my family, we do refer to it as my suicide attempt, because I need to respect it in that way. But at the time, and it’s also why I kind of kept it — in the book, I said I didn’t know at the time. Because you really don’t know.
“There are some people who are like, ‘Okay, I’m going to try to kill myself,’ and this is a very intentional thing, and that’s such a tragic situation. But there’s so many other people where it’s just shades of grey, and you’re just trying to make this pain go away, and you don’t know what you’re doing.
“And especially with bipolar disorder that is being treated with anti-depressants, that is the most dangerous thing for a bipolar person, because you just want to be level, you don’t want something that’s supposed to shoot you up. It’s the complete wrong reaction in your body. And so what that does it kind of makes you go on auto-pilot and say, ‘Okay, I’m just going to fix this thing, I just want to stop feeling this pain.’
“So at the moment, I wasn’t saying, ‘Okay, I want to kill myself, I want to die.’ But as it was happening, I was saying, ‘Oh, I guess I’m going to die.’ And I just didn’t care. …
“And being that close to not giving a damn if I lived or died, that’s what was rock bottom for me and made me say, ‘Okay, I should maybe care and get the right treatment and the right diagnosis.’ So to me, it is a suicide attempt, but I know when people are in those moments, they don’t know. …
“Sometimes you just need a little bit of help and someone who’s like, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’ And the hardest thing in the world for me was trying to do this on my own, and people telling me, ‘No, just stop being crazy,’ and me saying, ‘Okay, you might think I’m crazy, but I need help.’ But now I have a support system.”
While the book is packed with emotional, heart-wrenching stories from Mendez’s life, there are also lighter moments, like her WWE tryout, the time she and her dad stood in line for eight hours at WrestleMania or his love and adoption of animals. It’s an extraordinarily well-written memoir that paints a vivid story of the highs, the lows and the search for the middle in Mendez’s journey.
As Mendez explained to the Wrestling Compadres, she wanted to make it clear that although there were bad times in her upbringing, no person is the villain:
“Mental illness is the real villain of this story. We gave it all the power, and we have to take it back.”
Finally, Mendez revealed she’s working on a second book which aims to help others with their own mental health:
MENDEZ: “I am vague about specific treatments I do, because I don’t want people to be like, ‘This is the formula!‘ Because it’s not; it took me a decade to figure out the cocktail that works for me. …
“You have to figure out the things that work. For me, it’s a little bit of everything, of therapy and medication and especially being active, and just having a natural way to get endorphins in my body, makes me feel so much better. … And so that is my own form of therapy. And that might be different for everyone. And I’m writing my second book now, and it kind of goes into that.
“Basically, I felt this book was the journey to discovering mental illness, and then saying, ‘Oh, this okay, I can use this as a weapon, and it’s actually a gift. It helps me see the world in different colors, and that’s a good thing.’ And the second book is, now what? How do you live with it every day?
“So it is very much the story of what I do to make it better every day and what I’m going to try and experiment with, and things I’ve done wrong. Very, very wrong, and couches I’ve stabbed. … So it’s very much that. ‘Don’t do this, but maybe try this.'”