Why I Keep a Pain Journal

By Barby Ingle, Columnist  

In 2002, I was in what was thought to be a minor car accident. After months of getting worse, noticing new symptoms and doctors telling me it was all in my head, I set out to find answers that made sense for what was happening to me. 

Many of the medical tests that were performed did not show any problems. Even so, my symptoms were still bad and getting worse. I started physical therapy about a month after the accident, which was excruciating and seemed to make things worse.

Flash forward three years, and I found my way to a pain clinic here in Arizona. My doctor took the time to listen to my history and examine me.  The thought of being examined again by a new doctor was frightening. After an hour with me, the doctor said I might have Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a painful neurological condition. A test later confirmed I had RSD -- as all my signs and symptoms had pointed to for all that time. 

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After finding so little information out there about RSD and having so many doctors try to treat me who did not know about it, I realized that I was the one who had to teach my caretakers.

Many doctors who are not connected with a research hospital or university do not have the time to stay up-to-date with the latest information on RSD and other chronic illnesses. RSD does not always respond to treatments that relieve other types of chronic pain. Even among RSD patients, there are different responses to treatment.

The condition affects many aspects of the patient's life in varying degrees. For me, the simple things are the toughest. Activities of daily living, personal grooming, and my social and personal life have all been affected. I was not prepared for a catastrophic injury and lost my professional life during the bad days of RSD. I have had to adjust my daily routine because of the difficulty of performing simple tasks. 

I also learned to participate in very limited leisure activities, as I had to find my tolerance levels and work within them. I used to be very athletic, and loved hiking, biking and dancing. I constantly worked out and trained my body. Now I have a limited exercise regimen.

Because of my pain, falls and blackouts, as well as medication side effects, I am no longer able to drive. I need assistance with shopping, cooking, remembering things and traveling. I am in constant need of assistance, which makes traveling, social activities, personal care and holidays more complicated.

I have difficulty sleeping, lack energy and experience stress in my daily life. All of these help the cycle of pain continue.

Over time, I have found that pre-planning for daily events, activities and trips is not something I should do out of convenience; it is something I have to do to be able to function at even a basic capacity.

When I started a daily journal, I found that prayer, having a low-stress lifestyle, and staying hopeful keeps me in a positive place mentally. It also helps me keep my records organized, allowing for better healthcare. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff, to let go of troubles from the past, and look for ways to better my future. With a good team around you, the same is possible for you.

Like most chronic pain conditions, RSD is an invisible disability, which makes it harder for people to “see” your pain. People often have misconceptions about people with disabilities, so I disclose my condition to anyone who will listen, to let them know that RSD exists, and that early detection and proper treatment are important for RSD patients to have any chance of remission.

The more people I educate, the better the chances will be that someone else with RSD will have it easier. I know what I live, I journal it and I want to help others. Maybe a journal will help you.

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.