surrendering her lease in BROOKLYN TO travel and farm, leah takes us on her journey of HEALING & GROWTH TO rebuild her identity
ON TRADING TRENDY HEELS FOR MUDDY CROCS:
"From September 2016 through October 2017, I travelled all around North America, living and working as a nomadic apprentice on ten small, organic farms. I planted thousands of cloves of garlic in Kentucky and shoveled goat poop in Oregon. I got mercilessly stung by red ants, while weeding blueberry bushes in Florida. In Tennessee, in the days surrounding Trump’s election, I watched the births and deaths of multiple sets of piglets. I slept on the floor in a closet in Arizona, where plastic was explicitly forbidden, apple cider vinegar served as soap, and everything including toilet paper was recycled. I learned to inoculate logs with mushroom spawn to distinguish different varieties of wild medicinal plants and to harvest spinach leaves one by one. I adored every bit of it. And I met so many of my now dearest friends along the way, while journeying entirely on my own.
"TRADING TRENDY HEELS FOR MUDDY CROCS WAS A KEY COMPONENT IN WHAT BECAME A PROCESS OF REBUILDING MY SENSE OF SELF and VALUES, to turn my life right side up again..."
I used to live in New York, the city I’d always dreamed of living in. It shaped so much of my identity from childhood through my early twenties – that craving for bright lights and big sounds and a perpetual backdrop for compelling stories. It was always meant to be the place where my fashion career would unfold and where I’d be seen and understood, and I truly never imagined moving anywhere else. But three years into living there, I surrendered my lease in Brooklyn to travel and farm. Trading trendy heels for muddy Crocs was a key component in what became a process of rebuilding my sense of self and values, to turn my life right side up again, after what turned out to be a way harder adjustment to adulthood than I’d anticipated.
The hardest part was announcing that I was leaving, and then leaving. It was so absurd to anyone who'd always known me as this lifelong devotee to NYC and its fashion industry. I couldn't predict whether it would turn out to be a fruitful or foolish choice. But I remember feeling giddy from the moment I arrived on the first farm, grinning ear to ear, just so viscerally joyous and grateful and open. I had this sense of true possibility and wonder that I'm not sure I'd ever experienced before. That irrefutable inner glee trumped the doubt or fear I might otherwise have grappled with in those early weeks and months.
"THIS TRANSITION EVENTUALLY CHANGED WHAT FEELS LIKE EVERYTHING... it made me more of who i think i was always supposed to be, minus all the shields, habits and disguises i'd been carrying around unknowingly for so many years."
This transition eventually changed what feels like everything – my relationship with my own nature, with Mother Nature, with American culture, with my everyday meals. It humbled and empowered me in equal measure. It made me more of who I think I was always supposed to be, minus all of the shields, habits and disguises I'd been carrying around unknowingly for so many years. And though I’m still sorting out exactly what long-term role it will play in my trajectory, farming is now integral to my sense of purpose on this planet. And I couldn’t possibly care less about those trendy heels I once revered, even though New York will always have a special spot in my heart."
ON CHOOSING TO FIND JOY IN LEANING INTO DISCOMFORT:
"I take a run almost daily, and it’s often my most joyous hour or two. It’s also the most uncomfortable thing I do, objectively speaking. I sweat, I pant, and I keep moving anyway. I try to pay specific attention to bodily cues, so that I always push myself but never to a point that is too much for my body to handle. Non-runners are often mystified by the fact that I’ll challenge myself to a half-marathon on a random Tuesday afternoon, just for fun. I think considering it to be fun is a choice – I decide to attach joy to my discomfort. Life opens up to you when you make that mental switch and get curious about your limits, your fears, and your strengths. And running is really just a simple and tangible exercise to remind myself to embrace what exists beyond my comfort zone.
"Life opens up to you when you make that mental switch and get curious about your limits, your fears, and your strengths."
Leaving New York for farming was a giant leap outside my cozy boundaries. I could barely handle a shovel or sustain a houseplant when I started. And then, moving to Oaxaca, Mexico a few months ago, when my one-year farming pilgrimage ended, was taking another giant leap. I knew literally five or ten words of Spanish when I first arrived, and as someone who prides herself on her capacity for deep and intimate conversations, I still sometimes feel so naked in the company of my local friends when I can't express myself fluidly and fully. But leaning into that awkwardness is the only way I’ve learned to speak just a little more smoothly. By definition, living outside of the container of one’s comfort zone is expansive, and expansion is always what I’m after.
"WHEN I REACH FOR SOMETHING SOOTHING, I'M ALWAYS ASKING MYSELF, 'IS THIS NURTURING ME, SO THAT I CAN BECOME A BIGGER, BETTER VERSION OF MYSELF? OR IS THIS KEEPING ME SMALL?'"
I do though believe in meaningful comforts: self-care, the support of community, a good hug, dark chocolate. But when I reach for something soothing, I’m always asking myself, 'Is this nurturing me, healing me, so I can become a bigger, better version of myself?' Or is this keeping me small?'"
ON FACING WHAT HURTS TO RE-EVALUATE HER GOALS AND HEAL:
"In the months after I graduated from college and moved to New York to start my communications career, it felt like my whole life was falling apart. Somehow, symbolically at least, the collapse seemed to revolve around a strange and sudden breakup with my best friend from high school, the one who had always listened and accepted my toughest truths, who had sworn to love me unconditionally, and to whom I had promised the same. We’re all familiar with romantic heartbreak, but no one prepares us for the feeling of losing a friend – excruciating. Our falling out happened at the same time as the 'healthy habits' I'd embraced during my last semester of school devolved into a brutal eating disorder. I was harshly restricting my food intake in an attempt to get my type one diabetes in check, convincing myself that I had to control every morsel of my food in order to control my blood sugar numbers in order to control...my future overall. I’d avoided dealing with my diabetes for years, since I was diagnosed at age 12, probably because it felt too complicated to truly master. So when I finally made that mental shift towards addressing it, without adequate, psychologically-astute medical guidance and at a time when I craved a sense of control, I slipped into excessive perfectionism.
"TO SEEK JOY, PEACE AND TRUE FULFILLMENT, I HAD TO RECONSIDER EVERYTHING I'D PREVIOUSLY BELIEVED TO BE TRUE ABOUT MYSELF..."
Clawing my way up from this emotional fall led me towards a space of greater light and clarity than I could possibly have discovered in any easy way. The whole experience was like this bitter, yet potent medicine to heal all the things I didn’t even know were hurting – a whole slew of traumas and insecurities I'd been gathering from childhood through college that led me towards shaping a life I thought was "right," even though it felt physically, emotionally, and spiritually wrong. To seek joy, peace and true fulfillment, I had to reconsider everything I'd previously believed to be true about myself, and that is what eventually led me towards leaving the city I never thought I'd leave and forging new friendships and career objectives that align with my adult goals, values and identity."
ON THE SHAME OF HER OWN SHAME:
"I think many of us struggle to talk about the things we think make us 'abnormal' and, thus, potentially unlovable. For me, those would be my type one diabetes, my experience with an eating disorder and my bisexuality. The diabetes is the easiest to reveal (though still not easy), I think, because every fiber of my brain and being understands that it isn’t my fault. It’s an auto-immune disorder with unknown causes and I’ve lived with it for 15 years. But somehow, I’ve absorbed certain cultural narratives that frame queerness as 'wrong' or 'distasteful' and that try to convince me that just sticking with 'straight' instead of 'fluid' would be more sensible. And I’ve seen way too much media suggesting simple, surmountable motives as the basis of anorexia, like it’s a shame-worthy choice.
"I'VE ABSORBED CERTAIN CULTURAL NARRATIVES THAT FRAME QUEERNESS AS 'WRONG' OR 'DISTASTEFUL' AND THAT TRY TO CONVINCE ME THAT JUST STICKING WITH 'STRAIGHT' INSTEAD OF 'FLUID' WOULD BE MORE SENSIBLE."
It takes time for me to share these things with other people because I’m nervous about how I might be judged or labeled or stereotyped, even though I’d like to believe I accept other people’s quirks easily. I’m ashamed of my own shame, really. But I’m trying to get to the root of it and to squelch it by speaking it out loud."
A SAYING THAT KEEPS HER FREE IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY:
"One of the phrases I repeat often in my head is, 'Be the best prisoner you can be.' I copped it from this essay, my favorite piece of reading of all time, and it reminds me that I get to choose how I react to the restraints and challenges that are integral to human life – that I can always create or cultivate my own joy and freedom. (P.S. – so can you.)"
DISCOVER LEAH'S STORYTELLING PLATFORM