The Frontal Cortex

Jeff Tweedy on Migraines

The NY Times group blog on Migraines just posted a really fantastic article by Jeff Tweedy, leader of Wilco (one of my favorite bands), on his chronic migraine condition:

There are a lot of different ways migraines have affected my music, and vice versa: being a musician has allowed me — for lack of a better phrase — to rise above the pain from time to time. I’ve never missed a show because of a migraine. But I’ve played some really horrible shows and cut them short because there was very little I could do to keep going. I’ve played shows where I had bucket on the side of the stage where I threw up in between songs regularly. There’ve been a lot of horrible experiences trying to, well, you know, have the show go on.

On a creative level being able to play music and disappear into something as meditative as music can be has been a real blessing in my life.

Wilco has always interspersed its lovely melodies with bouts of anarchic noise, as the chorus degenerates into sonic chaos. I’d never quite understood the noise before – I’d always skip to the next track once the noise began – but now it seems to me that the noise is actually a pretty potent metaphor for the brain during a migraine. The normal rhythms of the mind degenerate into something else entirely.

Tweedy is also incredibly honest about his struggles with addiction and painkillers:

As for the pain killers — it happened initially in the way that a lot of drugs find their way into the hands of rock musicians. Someone gave me some at some point and I took them recreationally. There was nothing noble about it in any way. And at that point I just thought, “Where have you been all my life?” I think it had more to do with my panic disorder to be honest. There was a quality to that type of medication (an opiate) that felt very comforting and maternal. It gave me a sense of well being that was really lacking in my periods of depression and panic. So I just thought, it would great if I could feel like this all the time.

But it really became a problem was when I realized I could get a lot of them because I suffer from migraines. I tried a lot of different medication to ease the migraines and to be honest the painkillers never worked better than anything else — it didn’t work better than Imitrex. The way serious painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycontin work is that they make you not care about the pain and that was really desirable to me — to be able to continue to work and be creative and make music and actually feel normal. It was something that allowed me to be functional for a while.

Read the whole thing. And then listen to the soothing harmonies of Sky Blue Sky.

Comments

  1. #1 David
    March 6, 2008

    I’ve got chronic neck pain and have been on hydrocodone and percocet on and off for about 9 months. My tolerance has really built up to the point that I can’t get a prescription to manage it anymore, but of course the pain doesn’t go away! In your opinion, what is the best way to get the medication without a prescription?

    Thanks dude. I love your blog and the wisdom from your experience.

    D.

  2. #2 Rachael
    March 6, 2008

    The dentist put me under general anesthesia to remove my wisdom teeth and then prescribed me vicodin. I woke up from the surgery very disoriented and puffy-faced, took just one pill, and then an hour later decided to go for a lovely two mile walk, birds chirping, la-la-la…

    Err. Got back to bed and decided to let the pill wear off. When it did wear off, I was pretty startled to see how strong the effect was on both my physical sensations and my emotional state — so I decided to deal with the pain and toss the vicodin.

    I am very interested in what leads some people to addiction and not others. Of course, many researchers have dedicated their careers to trying to find out. Once again we have no satisfying answers. We know more about addiction: we know about adaptive changes at the cellular and molecular levels, we know about psychological triggers, we know all about the comorbidity of addiction with other psychiatric disorders, but we still don’t know how to really help people who are addicted. Perhaps escaping from disorders like addiction and depression will always require an underlying strength of will or motivation.

  3. #3 Abel Pharmboy
    March 6, 2008

    I’ve been anxiously awaiting Jeff’s first post. What great insights and honesty. The whole NYT Migraine blog is a blessing to migraineurs.

  4. #4 Christian
    March 10, 2008

    Jeff Tweedy’s battle with migraines is well documented in the film “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” a documentary that centers on the making of the Wilco album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I highly recommend it!

    I recently read Proust Was A Neuroscientist and deeply, deeply enjoyed it — thank you!

  5. #5 Heather
    March 10, 2008

    Love Wilco, loved the article. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

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