Chelsea Leyland, DJ
Chelsea Leyland's name has been synonymous with fashion-DJ-it-girl for years. After being diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 15, Leyland did everything in her power not to let the disease to get in the way of her career or overshadow her talents. Within the past year, however, something shifted and it became apparent to Leyland that this side of her was no longer something she could - nor should - hide. Her mission now? Growing her platform to build awareness about epilepsy, sharing the power of whole plant-based foods as medicine, and, of course, continuing to DJ around the world. It's all about balance, and Leyland's got a thing or two figured out when it comes to our very favorite B-word.
To start, can you tell us just a little bit about your life, your journey, how it is that you got to where you are today.
I'm English and grew up in London. I went to a very artistic school in the country. Even though, I grew up in London I was always in the countryside and surrounded by beautiful nature from an early age. I moved to New York when I was about 19 to study acting at Lee Strasberg. I would say that acting is still one of my main passions and something that I'm focusing on again recently. That's the of side of things that has my heart in a big way, although that's not how I make a living.
When I became a DJ, I guess it was just something that I fell into. It was never something growing up that I saw myself doing. That has really been my main focus since living in New York. DJ'ing takes me all over the world and I love doing it. It's also nice because when you say 'DJ' people think that you're in the clubs till 3 a.m., but I get to DJ in quite a nice, civilized world. I do a lot in the fashion world, I work on music for runway shows and I'm also a radio show host for Apple, Beats1 radio, which I love because it's really about being yourself with your own voice and not having to show up and look the part. I can go in my pajamas and not give a shit which I love, especially now that I'm getting older and hate dressing up and not being cozy and comfortable. DJ'ing has really allowed other doors to open for me.
A little over a year ago, I decided I was going to come forward and talk about the fact that I suffer from epilepsy when being interviewed and what not. I made it this sort of rule, for the most part, that when interviewed from that moment forward, I would always mention it and shed some light.
It felt like quite a big shift and a new chapter in my life. I didn't really know how to channel it, but then realized that I wanted to become an advocate for epilepsy because it's something that I suffer from. I think I kept it a secret for so many years because I thought that was the best way to deal with it. My sister's also epileptic, and unfortunately, has a really severe type of epilepsy. A big part of me wanting to be an advocate for the cause is also because I feel like I owe it to her too, having grown up with her being so sick, she can suffer from 20 seizures a day. I realized that I had a voice and I had a platform and I could be doing something different with it.
I started to feel quite drained and saturated by getting asked the same type of surface questions, like, 'What's your beauty routine? Who are your favorite designers? What's on your must-have wish list for this season?' All those kinds of questions that people like to ask the 'it girls'. It all just felt like it was boiling up inside me and I felt like I needed to be able to use the connections I've made and relationships I've developed to allow me to come forward and hopefully inspire other people through this. If you suffer from epilepsy and you think you can't do what you want to do, well, here I am to prove it to you, that you can. I've managed to make it work. I just had my first event for epilepsy which was a hundred person yoga practice.
It's been really fucking amazing and feels so rewarding to open up about this. I've just started to receive e-mails and Instagram mentions and things that make me feel like, 'Okay, now I feel better just knowing that I can go beyond the surface and really talk about something real and personal.' I feel quite empowered by the whole process of it. It's why I want to continue to grow my following so that I can have an even bigger platform and reach even more people.
When I left England and came to America, I was living this very glamorous, glitzy lifestyle and traveling the world and in the fashion scene, but it all started to make me feel quite toxic and it felt so fake and superficial. I started to feel like 'Why am I doing all of this? What does it actually mean? Is it helping anyone?' Being around people stressing about the wrong things, and stressing in a way that was just crazy. I'm really at a point where I just want to do more. I always say that when I read about someone who I've looked up to, whether it's an actor, comedian, someone in the spotlight, and they talk about how maybe they're manic-depressive or have panic attacks or different struggles, I'm always like, 'I like you even more now. Now you're a human. Talking about this will help someone else.'
Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship that you've had had with your body? Especially considering epilepsy it's such an uncontrollable thing.
It's such an uncontrollable thing, and that in itself causes anxiety. They say that people with epilepsy have terrible anxiety, but is it because your epileptic brain has anxiety, or is it that the epilepsy causes the anxiety? Who fucking knows, but I've definitely battled a lot with anxiety, and yeah, a big part of it is because I have this condition which is completely uncontrollable. I'm lucky I don't suffer from epilepsy as severely as others.
I'm also working on a partnership with a CBD oil company. CBD is a different compound than THC in the cannabis plant. THC is psychoactive and what gets you stoned and CBD is not psychoactive. It does not get you stoned. It's anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, helps people sleep, it's helping people with cancer, with pain. I've been pharmaceutical-free for one month now and I've been on medication since I was 14.
I lose my memory because of side effects from the drug that I've been on for years. I have really bad aggression, irritability and it was a dream for me to get off medication. I've been struggling with my body's detoxification and my moods are a bit unstable, but just to know that I have not taken any chemical prescription has felt amazing. With CBD, I'm taking something from the earth and something that actually has been in the medical chronicles from the beginning, but it has disappeared for the past 100 years and has been kept very hush hush. There are trials being done right now which are being conducted by pharmaceutical companies. My neurologist, who's a professor, pretty much laughed in my face when I mentioned that I took CBD.
What about CBD works for you and why do you want to spread the message?
It's age old, but been kept locked down because our system here wants everyone on chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs, and the doctors get kick backs. It's pretty corrupt. People care about money, especially in this country. It's really something that I feel so passionately about. It's so personal. There's so many people out there that deserve to know about alternatives, just to be educated. Let's remove some of the stigma attached to it. Taking CBD is not about getting stoned.
Again, remember, this is from the earth. God gave us this, whatever you believe that to be. The universe gave us this. I think we have to look at what we're given before turning to something that's so man-made and unnatural. For me when I first started to take the CBD oil with my medication I started to stop taking my pill because I didn't really need it. On a more scientific level, it just allows your neuroreceptors to be stable, because when you're epileptic they kind of do have this electrical storm in your brain. I just feel so different when taking it.
I went to Ibiza a few weeks ago and I was able to live my life in a way that I've actually never been able to, which is to stay up and watch the sunrise. I was never able to do that before because if I don't have enough sleep I get sick, then I could have a seizure. For me it was just so huge.
What are some of the changes you've made once you really started to tune into your body?
The way I am now versus when I was 21, is definitely a lot healthier. I don't enjoy the feeling of waking up with a hangover. I don't enjoy how it makes my tummy feel and the way my food digests. I've had a lot of health things that have brought me to where I am today. I've had really, really bad gut issues and digestive issues. I had to go on a crazy diet for over a year and avoid all sugar. I had such a sensitive gut and had to eat really clean. My moods are more stable. I emotionally feel better. I feel more grounded when I eat clean food, when I avoid meat, when I avoid sugar, when I'm doing my yoga and my meditation, but I'm not going to be psycho about it. I still gotta have fun. You gotta live your life. It's about balance and really just figuring out where you're at. When I was on my strict diet I hated it. It's been a big journey to where I am now. It's been about a year and a half, and now I'm slowly introducing more sugar, but I notice how I feel right away, and most of the time it's not good. It's crazy. I feel really shit when I eat meat and I think a big part of that is because the meat is not good with all the antibiotics and hormones and what not that they feed the animals. I, for the most part, don't eat meat when I'm in the United States, but when I'm in Europe, when I'm home in England, I'll let myself eat roast beef. My mum is an amazing cook. I just think you got to enjoy yourself and your life. You just have to know what's right for you.
Really when I came to the end of the journey, I realized that, yes, I definitely had something going on and that I definitely needed to cut things out of my diet for a little while. What I did notice though, was that a lot of my stuff was actually all emotional, but that's the process, right? That's figuring it out. Learning to breathe has been a big part of it, learning how important sleep it, learning how important it is to say no to things. Putting health before work.
Has it been difficult to do that, to balance your career with trying to consciously live a super healthy life?
We all are so ambitious in New York for the most part. That's how we survive. You can't survive in New York unless you have that go-getter attitude, or if you're not a thick-skinned kind of person. Yeah, I think it's hard because I'm really ambitious and I want to do really well, but I can't handle as much as your average Joe. I have to get my sleep. I have to eat well. I have to keep my anxiety and stress down because I will get sick otherwise. If it's not showing in my stomach than it's showing up in my epilepsy.
I just can't afford to get that wound up, I still do sometimes though with work especially fashion week and this and that. Often, asking myself, 'Is this amount of money for this job worth what it's doing to my health?' And sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. To be honest, I'm still trying to figure it out. I'm definitely better now than I was a couple of years ago. It's funny because living in New York I hear so many stories and especially young women that have had gut issues and thought they had all this crazy stuff wrong with them and figured out that a lot of it was just stress.
Your spiritual intuition's from your gut and it makes total sense. It's your other brain. Whatever's going on up in your head is reflected in your gut. I know that now because during times when I'm crazy busy, I feel awful in my tummy and I'm in agony and I can barely do my jeans up. As soon as I calm down and relax and listen to my body and do my meditations, life gets better.
Do you have any routines that you've developed over the years that help you ground and stay sane?
I try to meditate every day and keep up with exercise. For example when I'll have a crazy fashion month or just flying a lot, it's important for me to take that time and be by myself, be in nature wherever that may be. Nature has always been a constant source of grounding for me.
I like to keep stones that are black on myself because those too are extremely grounding. And when you get too in your head, that's when it's time to meditate.
Another thing I'm trying to do is to plug the phone across the room. And get it out of my immediate grip. Instagram and all this stuff can be very toxic. You need to just get off that shit when you feel bad. The more you actually get out of it, the better you feel. But very hard to do when you need it for your career and to make money and people are paying you to post on Instagram. You have to find the balance. And it's really challenging for everyone.
Have you noticed a change since adopting these new routines?
There are small things that are happening to me now that are really allowing me to check myself and open up. I just went to Austin and met this girl who came up to me and asked me to take a picture with me. She had her jaw wired shut, and honestly, my mind went straight to thinking, 'Oh, this is one of those LA kind of girls, she's had this surgery on purpose.' It reminded me of this thing out of Clueless. I was just severly judging in my head, judging, judging, judging. She was a really sweet girl and after I met her and took a photo, I got an e-mail from her the next day that said, 'Hey, Chelsea, just wanted to thank you for being so sweet to me yesterday. It was so lovely to meet you and take a picture with you. I also didn't want to tell you when I was in person, but I just thought I would let you know the reason I couldn't smile properly for the picture was because I had my jaw wired shut from having an epileptic fit.'
On so many levels that made me check myself to be like you judgmental idiot. Don't ever judge someone because you never know what anyone else is going through. You never, ever know. She also wrote, 'I always followed you and thought you were really cool and then when you started to speak out about having epilepsy and being an advocate, it made me feel better about it.' And that's what this is all about.
For me, that makes it worth doing all the bull shit. I think I'm really at a point where I am so keen to be more of that. I had a mother write to me last week. I feel like if I'm getting press for being an advocate and I'm touching other people, then, fuck yeah. But when I'm just getting put in a magazine because someone wants to ask me questions about the clothes in my wardrobe, I just can't do much more of that. It just doesn't make me feel good.
For me it is about connecting back to my roots. It's about tapping into my relationship with my sister and having grown up in a very real environment. My sister was always in an emergency room. As a kid, I would call the ambulance when she was having seizure. We spent a million Christmas days in hospital. It was very real to grow up in that kind of hyper, crazy environment. Actually, where I am today I see it as a blessing because it's allowed me to have a completely new consciousness other than just doing a job and making money and being a hedonistic.
Can you tell us about your idea of legacy and what it is that you want to leave behind?
I once read a quote about when you pass away, and I think for any of us that have lost people close to us you realize that it's so easy to get caught up with material things and what we own. I mean, I'm the worst with that. I lose a necklace and I want to cry. Things are important, my grandma's ring that I wear everyday is extremely important to me, but it's a thing. The quote that I read was about when you pass away it's not about how successful you were, how rich you were, what you did, what you owned, it's about how you touched other people's lives. And that, at the end of the day is what it's all about.
As for my own legacy, if I passed away tomorrow all the gigs I've played at, yeah, it would be great for people to be like, 'God, she was such an amazing DJ. I danced so much. She had such a fun personality, she was awesome.' That's cool and all, but for me it would be about the young girl that I've been emailing back and forth with saying that she was really touched by the work that I've done for epilepsy and the fact that I had the courage to come forward and talk about it. That's what I want to leave behind, the fact that I used a small platform to make some loud noise.