Good Reads: Sick magazine doesn’t sugar-coat stories of illness and disability

Tired of unrealistic and unhelpful writing about life as a sick and disabled person, Olivia Spring created her own magazine offering honest perspectives on the issue

Inspired by her own experiences of chronic illness, Olivia Spring founded Sick magazine during her studies at Goldsmiths University in London. Originally from New York, she had come to the UK to pursue a degree in journalism when – suffering from fluctuating health and unemployment as a result – she had the idea of creating a platform to support herself and others in her situation.

“I felt really defeated and could not imagine what my future would look like – I didn’t know what sick people did to survive and didn’t know how I would ever be able to live the independent life that I wanted beyond university,” she says. “At first, my idea was to create some type of business that would help chronically ill and disabled people find jobs, and to help make workplaces accessible to them. However, that idea felt really overwhelming and vague, and quickly developed into something more specific: a magazine.”

Spring was immediately excited by the idea of a publication dedicated to “elevating the voices of sick and disabled people”, and she knew from the get-go that it would be called Sick. She began journaling, drafting and researching to gather initial ideas for what the content could be. Spring was driven by the thought of filling it with stories that were sincere and not overly sugar coated, as much of the writing around sickness and disability tends to be.

“I knew I wanted to publish real, honest writing about life with illness and disability rather than stories of ‘overcoming’ things or stories written to be inspirational,” she explains. “I wanted writing that people would find solidarity in, see themselves in, but also provide an opportunity to see something from a new perspective, learn about other disabilities you might not know of, and learn how to be a better ally to disabled people.”

Spring was also decisive about the look of the magazine. She “had a clear vision for the style of the publication”, which she says brings together her personal taste with an aesthetic that is authentic and fresh. She knew that it needed a bold colour scheme and uplifting artwork, because “disability and illness is not commonly written about alongside pale pinks and bright yellows”.

Studying the covers of the first four issues, we can see the result of this vision. The artworks that adorn the front of each one are certainly uplifting, with the most recent issue showcasing an illustration by chronically ill, Manchester-based artist Floss Burns. The artwork features an art-nouveau-inspired style and depicts a figure stretching out of a pink and blue thistle.

Inside this fourth issue is a mix of poetry, artwork, features and essays, including an interview with poet Ashna Ali, and articles exploring important topics around how people can navigate the world using a wheelchair, how the NHS is harming patients with outdated methods, and the complexity of looking at misdiagnosis in hindsight.

Speaking on her aspirations for the future of Sick, Spring says: “I hope the range of work we publish keeps developing and our contributor rates can increase, and that we can be sold in more stores and hopefully someday continue with our events. I would also love to make more illness-related merchandise such as pill boxes, canes, and other accessories, as well as set aside some money solely for mutual aid purposes, allowing the magazine to offer monetary support to more than just our contributors.”