Faithelss founder on why craziness is what we need for a life without masks

Songwriter and author Jamie Catto believes that our dreams and ambitions are scuppered because we haven't embraced our dark side. Sheena Hastings reports.

Creative thinking: Jamie Catto is speaking about his new book at an event in Harrogate tonight. (Picture: Sam Pelly).

Jamie Catto says he was “a problem child”, who was told one thing and observed another in the world about him and was shoe-horned into a style of learning to which he did not respond well.

Now 48 and with children of his own, he recalls: “I felt lonely as a child seeing around me a world of hypocrisy and violence.” As a teenager, he suffered what nowadays would be described as extreme panic attacks. They drove him close to the edge.

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In his new book, Insanely Gifted – Turn Your Demons Into Creative Rocket Fuel, he describes how, with no discernible trigger, he would be seized by “primal terror”: shaking, vomiting, sweating, with adrenaline pumping for hours until he eventually fell into an exhausted sleep.

What started to pull Jamie back from the abyss was that his mother persuaded him to go with her to a self-development weekend course run by the Australian facilitator Graham Browne.

That was the beginning of what Catto called “a great treasure hunt” – 30 years of self-observation and healing, as well as making music and films, running workshops and helping others who suffer panic attacks.

Catto was a founding member of 90s dance mega-group Faithless and then the multi-award-winning global music and philosophy project 1 Giant Leap, which toured 50 countries, sharing music, ways of thinking and making documentaries.

He learned many different beliefs, practices and breathing techniques, “...all thanks to trying to survive being so sensitive in this world”.

His adventures and studies helped him to pull himself out of his own misery and learn enough to help others, he says. A key revelation was that “In order to survive I had to be willing to stop hiding so much of myself that I judged as unattractive or inappropriate.”

He believes that the world would be a better place and we would all be more healthy if we accepted different facets of our character. As he puts it, “...every human being is crazy and neurotic”, but instead of hiding the fact we should all show much more of our true selves.

He doesn’t advocate a road to chaos in terms of saying exactly what we’re really thinking all of the time... after all, we’d all be sacked from our jobs and socially ostracised if we gave free vocal rein to every passing thought.

However, Catto believes we live too much in the mode of “I’m fine, you’re fine, everything’s good”, hiding behind masks so that even those closest to us sometimes have little knowledge or insight into our vulnerabilities and worries.

But showing only edited version of ourselves in order to seem more acceptable and please others is unhealthy, he says.

Insanely Gifted is full of techniques and games used at Catto’s workshops and aimed at changing ways of thinking.

As with all books on the self-help shelf, not all of it will resonate with every reader, however an exercise called “Just like me!” is one worth considering by anybody. It goes like this:

Next time you find yourself making a judgement (negative or positive) about someone, either internally or in conversation, tag the phrase “Just like me” to the end of it. So: “He’s lovely guy but not always reliable... just like me...”.

Instead of judging the other person and their qualities as separate from you, you are identifying with them and seeing a side of yourself you may not acknowledge mirrored in them.

Realisation of your own frailties, reflected back, can reframe your ideas about yourself and others, says Catto.

Jamie Catto is speaking at a Harrogate International Festivals Berwins Salon North event at The Crown Hotel, Harrogate, tonight at 7.30pm. For tickets call 01423 562303.