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Keeping a Symptom Diary or Journal During the Disability Claim Process

April 7, 2021

Having a diary or journal that describes the nature of your symptoms, disability, or injury and how it affects you daily is one very good way to help improve your disability application. This applies whether you're still trying to work or have stopped working altogether. It is advisable to keep and maintain the log of symptoms on a daily basis. For example, I usually suggest keeping the journal next to their bed in the morning when they wake up to start the day with the pain or what they're feeling upon arising. Included with this is the difficulty in getting in or out of bed, how many times a day rest is needed, how long does the pain last, side effects of medications and so on. The journal needs to be carried with you throughout the day. Keeping the diary at their bedside offers the opportunity to write down sufferings during the night as well.

If your next appointment with your primary or specialist is not for 8 months down the road, then you're going to be hard-pressed to explain in detail how your range and function are impacted by your condition. This is where the symptom diary is your best friend during this process. You'll be able to access time, date, new injuries or conditions in the journal and how these have progressed over time. Added with that you'll be able to tell what medications are helping or not overall.

When you're filing for disability, usually it's not “where do you hurt today?” Most of the time it's pain that refers to various parts of the body. This is important to record in the diary, because memory fades and chronic pain does interfere with memory. I've seen this too many times, where claimants don't take their case seriously by documenting their condition. Then, when it comes down to specifically explaining what's wrong, they come across as unpersuasive or not that bad off. They just can't remember everything.

Details, details, details. With enough details the judge will be able to assess further if you're eligible for disability benefits (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Remember, SSI is for those who don't have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI. More on details: explain how you feel, describe and give examples of what you're going through. How would you rate your pain, depression, nausea, etc.

No one can feel your pain. You're the one who's going to explain how severe or serious the condition is. The more information you can provide as to the condition's honest effects of weakening, draining or incapacitating you the better off you'll be. This goes for mental conditions like depression or anxiety too. An MRI can't measure the effects of emotions, but these feelings can be documented in a journal. I had a client who was suicidal throughout the process until the medications were corrected, and the documentation was a saving grace.

A word about chronic pain conditions. Conditions involving lower back pain, nerve compression, arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, fibromyalgia, shingles, neuropathy, neurogenic pain, headaches or migraines, postsurgical pain, post-trauma pain, cancer pain, or pain that isn't caused by disease, injury or nerve damage are all examples of pain and what should be specifically documented. If you had to sit 6-8 hours in a job, how would this interfere with your ability to do your work? What would a normal day be like for you if you had to deal with this kind of pain?

The diary will assist your health care provider(s) understand what you're dealing with and the correct course of treatment to follow with or change. Also helpful is the fact that your pain is an indication of how it limits your ability to function and range(s) of motion. An accurate diary explaining your condition is critical to a potentially favorable decision on your Social Security Disability claim.

To summarize then, keep your documentation straightforward, written daily and overall, of how your condition(s) affect your life. Choose your wording carefully when expressing how you feel. The best diary is one that is comprehensive and orderly in view of your medical condition(s).

This blog is intended for information purposes only and does not establish legal representation or financial guidance.