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A Tullahoma woman is using her own battle with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder per-taining to sudden hair loss that starts with one or more circular bald patches that may overlap, to start a local support group aimed at helping those who share the same disorder. Yolanda Clark is striving to break the stigma on alopecia.

A Tullahoma woman is using her own battle with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder pertaining to sudden hair loss that starts with one or more circular bald patches that may overlap, to start a local support group aimed at helping those who share the same disorder. Yolanda Clark is striving to break the stigma on alopecia.

“There are different areas of alopecia areata: partial, total or universal. I have universal, meaning that I do not have hair at all,” Yolanda Clark said. “It is an autoimmune disorder. No, it will not kill you. I do get a lot of remarks telling me that ‘It’s just hair,’ but to a girl, hair means a lot when it comes to self-esteem and overall well-being.”

Clark was diagnosed with alopecia when she was 10 years old. “I remember receiving the diagnosis and my hair had already fallen out,” Clark said. “I remember my peers calling me ‘Miss Baldy.’ I hated going to school because I would get bullied and stared at every day. It was awful.”

“I have met two young children in the area that have the same diagnosis as me and I have remained in contact with them for support because I know how hard it is,” Clark said. “I would be willing to go to local elementary schools without my wig and talk to the children so that they can become familiar and comfortable with this disorder.”

Clark’s immediate goal is to initiate a local support group. “There is a national foundation in Nashville that holds support groups,” Clark said. “I feel like it would be good for Tullahoma to have its own group.”

“Alopecia can be an embarrassing thing for women to deal with,” Clark said. “If I could grow a support group here, it would be so helpful. There are a lot of things that many people do not know about alopecia and I could help educate them.”

 “If people knew about the disease, there would not be as many kids being bullied for having it. To normalize this to where kids can go to school with the disorder and not worry about being bullied, would be a huge breakthrough.”

In 2008, when Clark was 33, she suffered a massive stroke and was hospitalized for three months. Along with the loss of her husband and father, she found herself scared, vulnerable and unsure of how to move forward. “I felt like a flower that just would not bloom. It took my husband passing away, my stroke, and everything for me to get to a place where I could tell myself ‘If I can overcome all of this, why hate my alopecia? I should not be afraid of anything.’ Living in bondage is no way to live. Now, I feel like it’s my duty to help others see it the same way,” Clark said.

She has started a public page on Facebook for alopecia support. “I want to empower, inspire and support women. This page is a way for women to get online and join my group and know that they are not alone in this,” Clark said.

“My goal is to eventually have a support group that meets regularly. It will be a place where we can share our struggles and lift each other up. I have a few people interested and a potential location for our first meeting, but it is all still a work in progress,” Clark said. “I feel very confident that this will grow quickly.”

For more information on Clark’s upcoming alopecia support group meeting, follow her page “Faith’s Journey” on Facebook.

Katelyn Lawson may be reached at klawson@tullahomanews.com.