DJ, Model, and Muse Chelsea Leyland Talks Connecting with Nature, Life With Epilepsy
“All of us need to connect with the earth, whether that’s staring into a fire, or feeling your feet in the mud, or smelling that fresh cut grass. Being in nature allows you to reset…”
Chelsea Leyland is always saying things we can get behind. After hearing her inspiring and heartfelt talk at The Soho House here in New York City a few weeks ago (a month before she DJ’ed an afterparty for the White House Correspondents Dinner,) we knew we had to get in touch with her as soon as possible.
Below, GC talks with Leyland, renowned DJ and writer, about nature, personal growth, and living with epilepsy– a challenging aspect of life when your job requires the flashing of a camera, strobe lights, early flights, and late nights. Leyland, who hails from Britain, is the kind of host who invites you in immediately and offers up tea and a cat to play with– she has also lived with epilepsy her entire life. In recent years, she’s become a vocal advocate for awareness about how people suffering with epilepsy can still participate in the culture of dance music. Chelsea’s sister, who is autistic, lives with epilepsy as well, although a different kind; she lives with severe Epilepsy, which means she can have up to fifteen seizures a day.
Through her work with the Epilepsy Society and her own personal advocacy, Leyland has brought awareness to the cause through talks such as the one she gave the The Soho House last month. (“Whenever I’m doing anything with epilepsy, it feels so right to me,” she remarks of the event.)
Epilepsy, otherwise known as seizure disorder, is one of the top five most common neurological disorders. While it can cause other health issues, it’s primarily characterized by unpredictable seizures– a chronic disorder that comes in many different forms, as seizure types vary from person to person.
While the seizure affects the entire body, misfirings in the brain are the source leading to a series of seizure symptom. While most people immediately jump to tongue swallowing, there’s much more to epilepsy. Chelsea explains that she started talking more and more about her epilepsy because she “felt I owed that to my sister, and in a weird way, I just wanted to speak up because I struggle with my own health and having epilepsy. It’s a side of myself that most people have no idea about, and the ones that do, I felt there was a lack of understanding,” she tells us. “It was hard for people to understand it because they couldn’t see it all the time, but it’s something that is always there for me. Something as simple as getting on a 6AM flight is so difficult for me.”
“I started to think that I wanted my life to have more meaning, and I didn’t have to search for that because it was already there.”
It’s a struggle that has brought her attention to medical marijuana. Leyland hopes that the more studies that are done with medical marijuana, that the more perception shifts, and that people will have a different understanding of what it is and what it can do for people who are suffering.
Where we’ve gone as a culture, she reflects, is to a place where we’ve “put this huge stigma on it, saying that [marijuana] is a drug and that drugs are bad, so everyone else has to suffer because that’s the big way it’s seen. It’s such a small part of what the plant really is and what it has to offer,” she comments.
We’re now seeing the potential of the cannabis plant emerge in culture-writ-large, and the more and more success researchers have in terms of the relationship between healing illness and marijuana, the more accepted and important its role becomes in the medical community.
Chelsea mentions that they’re currently trying to secure medical marijuana for her sister, but that it’s complicated, as she’s too sick to use it at home and has to be supervised, yet the stigma of marijuana makes this process difficult. Hers are just a small number of the stories currently surrounding marijuana’s more ignominious associations, even as promising research in the U.K. has shown that CBD oil, a non-psychoactive compound distilled from cannabis, has notable positive effects as a treatment for children with epilepsy.
Being in the middle of a transitional chapter has led Chelsea to focus even more on the connection between mind and body and to find ways to unite her love of music and DJ’ing with her connection to nature. “With music, you’re able to connect with people in a far stronger way, and I think this idea of essentially taking people on a roller coaster or journey is something I feel with music,” she says. “I felt my identity much more strongly when I was doing yoga, with everyone moving in unison and practicing together.” It’s this spiritual sense that Chelsea taps into when thinking about her own personal life and her next move; she says that yoga and meditation have definitely helped her open up, and that “a big part of how I got here is feeling like I wasn’t in touch with my truth”. She’s started to speak out even more about epilepsy and her personal experience with it, and says that doing so was partly because she “didn’t like what I was representing in some respects. I wasn’t proud of my voice. I started to think that I wanted my life to have more meaning, and I didn’t have to search for that because it was already there”.
“At my core was the fact that I had grown up in this way that was very real, with my sister being so sick. It’s only been in the last five years that it felt that I had lost a piece of myself. It wasn’t even that I lost it, it was just I wasn’t in touch with that side,” she remarks. Chelsea is owning her own voice now, taking control over what she puts out there, and actively raising funds for epilepsy. (When we speak, she’s in the process of organizing a yoga event with FarFetch to raise money for The Epilepsy Society.)
Ultimately, her message is about getting in touch with the earth and encouraging people to reach out and be kind, particularly in busy cities such as New York. Seizures can definitely be scary to witness from the outside, but seeing someone suffer a seizure shouldn’t inspire fear. Chelsea has, in her experience, seen people stand by and do nothing.
“We need to change the way that we perceive people,” she says. “We’re so used to seeing people that are standing, and the way we think we’re meant to look, so as soon as the norm is disrupted or broken we become scared, which is actually ridiculous,” she insists. Helping– or even offering to help– is such a simple and yet entirely essential act. “I can educate people and teach people about something that they might not know,” she says of her role as a DJ, activist, and muse. “Maybe they’ll take one thing away from it, which is how to manage the situation if someone is having a seizure– and if that’s the one thing they take away, I think my job is pretty much done.”