Fitness + Well-being

How a WWE star wrestled with mental illness

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Don’t mess with “Crazy Chick.”

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.

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“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.

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Now, with her new memoir “Crazy Is My Superpower” (Crown Archetype, out now), Brooks is opening up about her own struggles with bipolar II and challenging the stigma of depression and other mental health issues.

“It’s hard to not think you’re alone in the world, so it’s good to connect with other people who’ve faced the same issues,” she says. “I want to show that they’re not something that’s going to stop you.”

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The book also chronicles her poverty-stricken childhood in Hudson County, NJ — her family was evicted more than 20 times — her introduction to wrestling and her marriage to former WWE champion Phillip Brooks, a k a Phil “C.M.” Punk.

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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.

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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.

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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.

In 2009, she got talent-spotted by the WWE, but her big break with the organization didn’t come until 2012, when she took on the “Crazy Chick” character and went on to earn millions of fans who watched her scoop up 10 major titles.

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Little did they know that she was really suffering from bipolar disorder, but now, with the book’s publication, she’s intent on sharing her story and helping others suffering from mental illness.

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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.

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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.”

First published on the New York Post.