I was first introduced to The Mix and their together project in 2021 when I was finishing my A levels. It was a member of staff at my sixth form who thought that the Together Project would be beneficial for me. Like many people I was massively impacted by the pandemic and lockdown, my mental health was at an all-time low, and my physical health had seen better days. I didn't really know what my future would look like, I could only dream of having a job, money, and independence. The one thing I did know was that I loved dogs, they are my whole life. Having raised a litter of puppies during lockdown I knew I wanted a future that involved dogs.
Starting the Together Project was scary; with social anxiety and undiagnosed autism, I often went mute in stressful and new situations. I think in the first session I only spoke a handful of times, only to answer questions. Instead of berating me or making me feel bad or guilty, Kathryn was kind and supportive. We would use art and creativity to express my identity, identify my strengths and weaknesses, and what I wanted to do. At the start this was difficult, I didn’t see many strengths in myself, I was only able to identify what I couldn't do. Slowly, she helped me write up a CV, cover letter and even looked at budgeting and some life skills. Because of her hard work I found a job. Kathryn was the one to push me forward. She sent an email on my behalf/with consent and I was given an opportunity to volunteer twice a week at a dog day care for an hour. This then became 2 hours, then every day, and then paid. Not even my parents thought I would be employed, especially not so soon after turning 19. But here I am, in my dream job paid actual money.
The Together Project and The Mix offered groups and workshops that I took part in. My favourite was ‘Expression’, an art group that really helped me and I completed three times. I love art, it is one of the few ways I can express myself and just escape from reality. Ollie was amazing at running the groups, offering small lessons on art theory, and allowing us to create meaningful but also fun pieces of art. Before I was employed or even volunteering, having these extra things to go to gave me a reason to get out of bed. ‘Diadem’, a group The Mix run especially for women/girls was so impactful. It allowed me to approach mental health, relationships, body image and all that from a different perspective. A core memory came from this group when we were given the opportunity to go to Lush and make our own bath bomb. I love Lush and their bath bombs are a solid part of my self-care rituals. This experience has stayed with me, and I am so grateful to have gone. Kathryn, Chloe, and Rae were so lovely and understanding throughout this group.
During my time at The Mix, I ended up in hospital, this was not something I had expected or would ever want to experience again. Mental health and mental illness are not a joke. Instead of being upset at me or negative in any way, Kathryn was supportive. She gave me a goodie bag and when I came home continued to support me with the same compassion. I was scared I would be shunned or made to feel bad for situations out of my control but that was never the case at the mix. Even the receptionists were supportive, and I would talk with Gert about her dog (who attends the dog day care I work at) and mine. With support from The Mix as well as my community mental health team, it has now been over a year since I was last sectioned/been inpatient for my mental health.
I had many important life experiences during my time at The Mix, including discovering I was autistic, starting DBT and my job, as well as my dogs having a second litter of puppies. The Mix supported me through all of this, making some of these things possible. Thanks to Kathryn, ‘Expression’ and ‘Diadem’ I was able to start establishing an identity away from mental illness, and I felt like I was beginning to find myself. I am now looking at increasing my independence, learning to drive as well as saving up for a static caravan so I can have my own space, but still have all my support needs met, and I wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for the support I received from The Mix. I would (and do) recommend The Mix to everyone who would benefit because they truly changed my life for the better.
Drawing of Izzy's dog Uno by Izzy.