Crazy Is My Superpower by A.J. Mendez Brooks is the autobiography of one of the most popular female professional wrestlers of all times. April Jeanette Mendez performed under the stage name “A.J. Lee“, and in 2012 was voted “the most influential female athlete on Twitter, beating out Serena Williams.” At five feet two inches tall and a little over 100 pounds, she does not fit the stereotypical mold of a professional wrestler.
Crazy is My Superpower is the fascinating story of how this intelligent but desperately poor Puerto Rican girl from New Jersey ended up making her living entertaining millions of fans by playing the “crazy chick” and “vengeful ex-girlfriend” inside a wrestling ring.
Lots of people look down on professional wrestling, calling it a stupid joke that is not a real sport. People who say that are missing the point. Of course it is not a real sport. It is a form of escapist entertainment performed by superb athletes that have to be a combination of stunt-people and actors. And unlike stunt-people in movies, professional wrestlers perform live with very little safety equipment and no chance for a second take.
As a kid, April Jeanette Mendez used to watch professional wrestling on T.V. as a way to escape from her real life. Her family was very poor and constantly moved to avoid creditors. A.J. kept all her clothing in a backpack just in case the family had to leave in the middle of the night at a moments notice. This happened so often that A.J. considered it a normal part of childhood.
April Jeanette’s parents were heavy drinkers and frequent drug users. There was never enough food in the apartment, but there was always beer in the refrigerator. Despite all of this dysfunctional behavior, the Mendez family was actually very loving. A.J. was very close to her brother and sister, and her parents really did try to care for the children. It turns out that A.J.’s mother was suffering un-diagnosed bipolar disorder for many years.
Despite all of this, April Jeanette was an excellent student and got into NYU. In addition to working hard in school, A.J. had worked part-time jobs to save money to go to college. Then it came time to give NYU the $500 initial payment. A.J. went to the drawer in her desk where she kept her savings, only to discover it empty. A.J.’s mother had stolen all the money and used it for alcohol, drugs and “household expenses”.
A heartbroken A.J. told her high school guidance councilor, Mr. Donnelly, the story and that she would now not be able to attend college. There was only a short time left to get the $500 to NYU on time. A few days later, A.J. received happy news. Mr. Donnelly and all the kids in the school had collected money, and gave A.J. the $500 she needed.
April Jeanette loved NYU. She loved working on her creative writing, but felt the extreme tension of being on her own and out of her depth. As the pressure mounted A.J. sought help from the psychiatric services NYU provided to students. It was there that A.J. discovered the frighting fact that mental illness is an inherited trait and that she was showing some of the same patterns as her mother. But there was good news. There was treatment for her disorders.
A.J.’s life was on track. She was getting her college education and the medical treatment she needed. Perhaps she could finally get the type of life that other more fortunate people so easily took for granted. Then A.J. got a call from her sister Erica.
“You need to come home. Ma overdosed.”
That was the end of A.J.’s college career. She had to quit school and take a full time job in a Pathmark supermarket so that she could help take care of and support her mother. A.J. reached a low point in her life. Everything she had worked so hard for her entire life was suddenly taken away. When she was forced to leave NYU, A.J. also lost the psychiatric support at the exact time her life entered a period of maximum stress. Psychiatric services were for students only.
Though she tired her best, A.L. eventually cracked under the pressure. She began taking antidepressant pills she had received from an NYU psychiatrist more than a year earlier. She also took pain killers. Unfortunately, A.J. had been misdiagnosed. She was not suffering from depression, she was in fact bipolar. People who have a bipolar disorder have extreme highs and lows. Usually they only seek help when they are at the low point, which mimics depression. It can be extremely dangerous for a bipolar person to take antidepressant medication. Bringing pain killers into the mix only makes things worse.
A.J. almost died, and ended up in a New Jersey hospital. This was the turning point in April Jeanette’s life. She decided to make a change. In most pictures of A.J. you will notice that she is wearing three thin black bracelets in her right wrist. These represent her new found freedom. In her own words, A.J. describes what these bracelets mean:
“The day I got home from the hospital, I cut the plastic hospital band off my wrist and replaced it with three thin black bracelets. One representing the life I had lived and the mistakes I had made, one representing the death I had escaped, and the last representing my second chance at life-my rebirth. I have worn them every day since.”
Thus began the new life of the person who would become known to the world as “A.J. Lee” the professional wrestler whose specialty was playing the “crazy chick” or the “psyco ex-girlfriend.” She went from being a college dropout working in Shoprite to a wrestling superstar loved by millions of fans. The road from the hospital to the wrestling ring was not an easy one.
A.J. Mendez decided to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a professional wrestler. It was a ridiculous idea. She was too small, too poor and let’s face it, too crazy to attempt such a challenge. But attempt it she did. She trained in gymnasiums with men three times her weight, and eventually the other wrestlers began to see her as a miniature dynamo.
Through hard work and a lot of luck, A.J. got into FSC (Florida Championship Wrestling) which is sort of the minor leagues for professional wrestling. That was when she discovered the sexist realities of the business. A.J. was very much a tomboy with great athletic skills. But that was not what Management wanted. Management wanted sexpot beauty queens who would stand around the ring in skimpy outfits and longingly watch the male athletes perform. That was not A.J.’s style. She was not going to change who she was. In fact, A.J did not even own a pair of high heels.
However, A.J. Mendez finally got to perform (under the state name A.J. Lee.) Management may not have liked A.J. Lee, but the crowds loved her. Fans, especially women, loved seeing a real girl they could relate to. Here was a girl who played video games, wore sneakers and shorts and who actually knew how to wrestle.
A.J. Lee’s big break came when she started playing the “crazy chick.” For those of you unfamiliar with the WWE, suffice it to say that professional wrestling is a show rather than a sport. The wrestlers play various roles in ongoing story lines. How long the story lines last depends on how well the fans respond.
A.J. Lee played that crazy vengeful ex-girlfriend that may suddenly show up out of the blue and do anything. A.J. was perfect at it. Crowds went wild for her performances. She was a ground-breaker in the WWE, proving to Management that a woman could bring in the big audiences and the big money if given the right opportunity.
Crazy Is my Superpower is a terrific book. A.J. Mendez Brooks is a gifted writer, who is willing to bare her soul and show the readers her most intimate feelings no mater how painful they are. This is no fluff piece autobiography. It is the story of a young woman facing adversities and accepting who she is. In A.J.’s own words,
“Everything I was told should be my greatest insecurities, my biggest roadblocks – everything I’ve been labeled: SHORT, NERDY, SKINNY, WEAK, IMPULSIVE, UGLY, TOMBOY, POOR, REBEL, LOUD, FREAK, CRAZY – turned out to be my greatest strengths. I didn’t become successful in spite of them. I became successful because of them. I am not afraid to be called crazy. Crazy is my superpower.”
In real life, A.J had very little time to be anybody’s girlfriend. Between her family stress, mental health issues and physical training, A.J. had almost never dated. She surprised herself when she and star wrestler C.M. Punk (real name Phil Brooks) fell in love. In one show they were to have a stage kiss, which to their own shock turned into a passionate real life kiss on national T.V. When they were off stage and back in the locker room A.J. was immediately surrounded by the other performers who wanted to know, “what the Hell was that?” “A.J. Lee” and “C.M. Punk” married not long after that first kiss. They have both since retired from professional wrestling.
Now that A.J. Mendez Brooks has left wrestling she is not sure what will be next. We at East Coast Stories are sure she will be a success at anything she puts her mind to. Crazy Is My Superpower is proof that she has the skills to pursue a career in writing. Whatever she chooses, we wish her the best.