Sarah Al Senaani doesn't promise people happiness but gives them the tools to create their own.
UAE Portrait of a Nation: an Emirati woman determined to find her happiness, and help others find their own
Three years ago, Sarah Al Senaani could not remember the last time she felt happy. While studying for her Master’s degree at Zayed University she says her professor asked her to go home and recall one thing that made her happy when she was a child. “I told him that I was so depressed that I could never feel happy or remember ever feeling happy one day.”
That year Sarah began seeing a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with clinical depression. She couldn’t take any medication because she was pregnant and later because she was breastfeeding.
“I felt like life wasn’t worth living and was going through the motions for my children,” says the mother of three. The professor’s question was a turning point for her.
“At first I couldn’t remember but then I recalled certain situations when I did feel happy. I remembered how when I was in fourth grade, I was happy drawing in art class. I remember every single person, more than 15, in my art class used to give me their art homework so I can do it for them and how the teacher was so angry at all of us but I was happy drawing.
"I remembered how I loved making my nanny happy and used to make cards for her. I had no money then so I couldn’t buy her gifts so I wanted to do things that made her happy which made me happy.”
Sarah outlined what she calls her seven pearls of happiness, they are the seven things that make her happy. Art and music; Humanitarian Acts; Cultural Tourism; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; Cultural Communication and Research; Kitchen Therapy, and Equine Assisted Therapy.
Out of these pearls Atelier Sarah Al Senaani was created, a registered arts and craft workshop for people with mood disorders.
“I am not a therapist or a psychiatrist and I don’t promise people happiness. I tell them these are my experiences and come see if they suit you. Some people might not be interested in art but would like to get involved in humanitarian activities and so what I do is get them involved in what we do in this field.”
Her humanitarian activities include giving out “baskets of love” to workers.
Sarah held her first art exhibition this year in Abu Dhabi where a therapist was invited to give a talk about mental health.
“When I was going through depression, I found no support. Yes, family and friends supported me but no one really understood what I was going through and I just wanted someone to feel what I felt and not tell me things like, look on the bright side or you should not be so negative. This sort of advice only makes us feel more isolated.
“My aim from Atelier is to tell people like me that I understand what they are going through, I am here for them and this is my experience with battling depression.”
Every Saturday Sarah meets with residents who reached out to her through social media.
“I’ve dedicated Saturday’s for volunteers. What I do is free of charge for now and I use all the proceeds from my art exhibitions and summer and winter camps which I have been organising for two years now, for the activities of Atelier which are tailored on a person’s needs such as art classes, cooking or horseback riding.”
So how does a mother-of-three with a full time job have time to stay on top of everything? “Time management and prioritising,” she says.