Jeff Tweedy was the thinnest he had been in years. On the stage of Otto’s, the DeKalb, Ill., club where Wilco kicked off its world tour a few weeks ago, he showed the effects of his recent health struggles. He had shed 30 pounds while in the grip of panic attacks and migraines that reduced his appetite for everything, even music. But after emerging from a monthlong stint in a rehab clinic, he felt renewed. “If it wasn’t for my wife, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said as the second Otto’s show opened. “I don’t know if I’d be alive.”

The cruel irony is that Wilco made some of its strongest music as Tweedy was struggling to keep his body and mind intact. His addiction to painkillers kicked in a decade ago as he tried to fend off the migraines that had plagued him since childhood. Anxiety attacks crippled him before he went on stage to perform, though the act of playing music would inevitably snap him out of it.

A parade of remedies came and went, until Tweedy eventually tried giving up everything all at once – painkillers, anti-depressants, even caffeine – in a desperate effort to heal himself last winter. He crashed hard five weeks later, and his wife, Sue Miller, took him to a hospital emergency room.

“I really didn’t think I would ever be normal again when I went in,” he says of that gray weekend in March.

“I was begging them to institutionalize me. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I wanted to die.”

Tweedy discovered in rehab that his anxiety attacks and migraines were related, and that if he could manage the anxiety, he could quell the headaches and cut out the need for painkillers. “I don’t like feeling out of it – I never have,” he says.

“Now I know what I shouldn’t do, and I have a lot more tools to deal with everything. It’s been a pretty brutal month, but I learned a whole lot about what my problems are, and for the first time in a long time I’ve got a lot of hope on how to cope with them.”

(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-06-11-04 0614EDT

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