Chelsea Leyland on Epilepsy & Being More Than Just an 'It' Girl
Oftentimes, today’s media feels less like a place to turn to for trusted news, and more like a ring of amateur drug dealers—the type that willfully exploit eighth graders by selling them an eighth of potpourri for $200.
Open up Twitter and you’ll see; most sites push out a deluge of vapid content, and while this is partially the media’s fault, it’s not entirely their fault either. It works both ways; in order to push out bucket loads of content about Gigi Hadid’s fat-burning smoothie recipe, Gigi Hadid had to have been at least somewhat complicit. Of course it’d be nice if the media would stop harping on about skincare regimens, but as Chelsea Leyland clearly understands, in order to see real change, both the media and those in the public eye must make a concerted effort.
You probably know Leyland as a DJ, if not as a model, “It” Girl, or some amalgamation of the three. Until now, that’s the image she’s put out into the world, but soon that image will change—and in her opinion, it’s for the better. Just as you might have a cold or be gluten intolerant, Leyland is epileptic, and while she has no intention of turning her experiences into a sob story, they’re experiences nonetheless—and real ones at that. It just so happens that this experience involves a particular neurological disorder that’s rarely been discussed honestly, openly, or candidly.
And after a 100-person yoga event that she organized to help raise awareness for the Epilepsy Society—which was produced by Farfetch—Leyland is now fully devoted to the cause. “I wanted to raise awareness and do it in a way that was sort of different,” she told us. “I didn’t want to do a dinner, I didn’t want to do a party or a fundraiser.” She also collaborated with both Farfetch and activewear brand Live the Process on a bodysuit, for which her friend Zoe Buckman designed the logo—and the proceeds for which will be going to the Epilepsy Society.
Why is this cause so important to you?
The primary reason is because I’m epileptic myself, and I have suffered from epilepsy since I was 15. And secondary to that is because my sister suffers from such a severe type of epilepsy [and], because of that, she’s not able to live a normal life. She can have up to, like, 15, 20 seizures a day. I [also] got to a point in my career where I realized I wasn’t doing anything to help anyone else and I [was] craving to give something back.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about epilepsy in general and marijuana oil in particular?
It ultimately comes down to lack of education. Epilepsy is actually the oldest condition known to man, but why are we so far behind with our knowledge of what it is? Because for so many years, epileptics were actually locked up, they were told that they were possessed by the devil. There were so many stupid, ignorant things that were said about this condition, so I think that’s why we’re not further along than we should be in terms of finding a cure.
“I tried to [have a conversation with] my neurologist about [CBD oil]… and he basically laughed in my face.”
One of [the biggest misconceptions] is that if you ever see someone having a seizure, you should put something in their mouth [so they don’t] swallow their tongue, which is a complete old wives’ tale, nobody can swallow their tongue. When someone is having a seizure, [you should] protect their head so that it doesn’t bash into something. And it’s not contagious, you can’t catch it—that’s another thing I’ve heard people say.
With regards to cannabis oil, I’m really at the beginning of my journey of discovering this. It’s purely medical; CBD is a completely different compound to THC. And it’s really great for inflammation—for concussions, cancer patients… the list really goes on.
We grow up thinking that our doctor knows best and sadly that isn’t the case. I tried to [have a conversation with] my neurologist about [CBD oil]… and he basically laughed in my face. [As if] I was just trying to get stoned. And it does not get you stoned at all. I’m now taking it daily; I’ve nearly weaned myself off my medication. And I might be potentially working with a company that’s producing CBD oil capsules. I’ve seen miracles with it—people taken off chemotherapy and cured of cancer.
Was there a pivotal moment you can remember in your career when you decided—wait, maybe I want to do something different?
I was doing a lot of interviews where I was being referred to as an “It” Girl, and—listen, it’s not the worst thing in the world, but it just made me feel really shit. [Laughs] I always think of an “It” Girl as someone that comes from a privileged family and doesn’t really do anything and just goes to parties. And that wasn’t my situation. Being asked these dumb questions again and again—“what moisturizers do you use when you fly?” or “what’s your Christmas wish list for this season’s must-haves?”—I was just like, oh my god; if someone asks me this question again I am going to kill myself.
In retrospect, getting uncomfortable or not being happy is often a catalyst for change. And I think that that’s what happened to me. I’m not claiming to save lives—I’m not trying to save the world—I’m just trying to do my bit.
“Everyone else that I’ve met with epilepsy has always been told to not tell anyone about it and that’s what I want to change.”
In our earlier conversation, you mentioned some public figures with epilepsy that have done work to raise awareness for other diseases and not epilepsy. Why do you think that is?
You know, it’s a strange one. I think a big part of it is due to this stigma that is attached to epilepsy and I think people—because of a lack of education—fear it. Seeing someone have a seizure is very, very frightening for someone that’s never seen that before; for me it’s very normal. But for others that have never seen that, it is scary.
I think a lot of it comes down to this fear of lack of control. When you have a seizure, you’re not in control and it’s embarrassing… It’s not an attractive thing. So I think people don’t want to be judged. Everyone else that I’ve met with epilepsy has always been told to not tell anyone about it and that’s what I want to change. That is who you are, talk about it.
I know you’ve done a ton of research on CBD oil—what’s the craziest thing you’ve found out that the government has done to regulate weed or CBD oil?
All I know is that doctors are getting kickbacks from the pharmaceutical companies.
You can growing the fucking plant in your back garden, and think how much money [doctors] make on these drugs that they’re giving.
This guy Jonathan that I might actually go into business with had a very severe concussion and he’s suffered from trauma and brain-swelling as a result. He was put on 32 different medications [before]… he basically cured himself by initially smoking a strain that [had] no THC but very high CDB. And then he went on to develop these capsules of oil. When he went back to one of the top concussion specialists in the U.S, the doctor laughed in his face and was like, “Oh you just got better—it has nothing to do with [the capsules].”
That’s horrible. It’s such an antiquated way of thinking.
Everything that I’m doing—it’s not a sob story. I’m not trying to say, “Poor me, I suffer from this illness, nobody understands.” I’m really just trying to almost make it cool and light. Like, hey, I’ve lived a pretty cool life, I fly all around the world, I’ve DJ’d for all these amazing people, but I unfortunately struggle with something and I want to talk about it.
Film by: Nadia Bedzhanova.
Film produced by: Alice Longyu Gao.
To learn more about the Epilepsy Society, visit their website here.
To shop Leyland’s collaboration with Farfetch and Live the Process, visit Farfetch here.
Stay tuned to Milk for more on causes worth getting behind.