"Any advice?" "Don't take crack." Talking mental health with the Connor Brothers
James Golding and Mike Snelle produce artworks under the pseudonym The Connor Brothers, but the pair joining forces has been about much more than creativity: it’s a form of therapy for them both
The Connor Brothers aren’t actually brothers at all. British artists James Golding and Mike Snelle came up with the pseudonym as a way to work anonymously. Snelle had suffered from suicidal feelings all his life, and Golding was a former heroin addict; the two art dealers started working together on their own projects as a form of therapy. They exposed their real identities in 2014 so they could undertake more ambitious projects. Here they talk through their struggles.
Was there a watershed moment in your life regarding your mental health?
Mike: There have been a few but most recently there was a moment in late 2012. l’ve suffered bouts of depression my entire adult life, but in 2012 it was so severe that I became suicidal. One particularly desperate and frightening evening James called and I confessed how I felt. He persuaded me to seek help and I got an emergency referral to a psychiatrist and was diagnosed as bipolar. I was prescribed medication and also started to see a therapist. I ended up living with James and that’s when we started to make art together and that was where The Connor Brothers were born. The lesson I learnt from that is that a single act of kindness from a friend or colleague, checking in when they can see you’re struggling, can be both life-changing and life-saving.
Do you have any specific rituals or routines for dealing with pressure?
James: Since childhood I’ve experienced terrible anxiety. At times it’s stopped me being able to function properly and has impacted my personal and work relationships. It was, at least in part, one of the contributing factors that led me to become a heroin addict. Getting high temporarily relieved anxiety, and when I came down, it returned more fiercely. I ended up in a cycle that nearly took my life. After trying numerous medications, I finally went to addiction therapy, gave up alcohol, and took up sport as an outlet. Recovery is an ongoing process but a combination of these things has certainly made a huge difference to my life and my ability to cope.
What advice do you wish you had been given earlier in your life?
Mike: That it’s OK to be different. Actually, it’s much more than merely OK: being different will one day become an asset.
James: Don’t take crack…
When given the opportunity men are capable of sharing issues and supporting one another
How can men become better at talking, especially to one another?
James: For most of my life I was ashamed of my anxiety, and then ashamed of having been an addict, and the things I did to feed my addiction. Making art with Mike was born out of having an open and ongoing dialogue about our mental health and addiction issues. We have found that using humour, even for the most distressing of subjects, is a really helpful way to talk about really difficult things. I think that there is an unhelpful stereotype of men as bad communicators.
It’s more a case of a cultural taboo of men talking about depression or mental health issues. When given the opportunity and encouragement men are capable of sharing issues and supporting one another. The real key, I guess, is for men to look out for one another, and not be afraid of reaching out and asking if the people around us are OK. The worst that can happen is that it’ll be a bit embarrassing. The best is that you’ll catch someone at a crucial moment and it can be a turning point in their lives.
It’s been said there’s a link between creativity and depression. Do you agree?
Mike: I feel very cautious around this conversation. On the one hand there is lots of anecdotal evidence of a link between creativity and mental illness, on the other the romantic notion of the tortured genius is a dangerous one. I certainly don’t think depression is a pre-condition of creativity or talent. However, lots of interesting people are drawn to the arts, perhaps because it’s a place that celebrates difference and gives room for unusual minds to express themselves. Many people suffer mental health issues because they think differently from others, which is also one of the foundations of creativity.
This month, The Connor Brothers are selling limited-edition prints with proceeds going to male suicide prevention charity CALM. There are 84 available, highlighting the fact that 84 men take their own lives every week in the UK. To get your hands on one of these please email email@example.com for details. For more info, see thecalmzone.net