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Anika Moa gets serious: ‘the diagnosis that changed my life’

As she launches her new podcast, the singer opens up about dealing with diabetes, ADHD, perimenopause and a year of panic attacks that ‘totally screwed me over’
Cole Eastham-Farrelly, Michelle Hyslop

Anika Moa is an award-winning, chart-topping musician, with a recording career spanning decades. She’s a children’s entertainer – her album Songs For Bubbas has just gone double platinum – and a star of radio (The Hits) and TV shows Anika Moa Unleashed and Seven Sharp.

So it’s no surprise to see the Kiwi icon popping up on another platform – this time as a podcaster for RNZ. Called It’s Personal With Anika Moa, her weekly series invites well- known New Zealanders to trust Anika with personal stories we haven’t heard before.

“I wanted to do something more serious than I’ve done before because it’s time,” explains Anika, 43. “I can still be a comedian like I was on Unleashed, but sometimes I want to talk about stuff that means something.”

Anika admits that when she was diagnosed with type one diabetes a few years ago, humour failed her.

“I didn’t laugh for two weeks because it’s not funny,” she says. “It’s a serious issue. So that’s what got me started thinking about a podcast where I wasn’t there to find the humour in everything. Instead, I wanted to get serious because there are so many wāhine out there who are bombarded with mental health issues, like depression, anxiety and ADHD, and they’ve got menopause and they’re reclaiming Māori heritage. And so that’s what I ask them about – no stone is unturned.”

In the announcement for her podcast, Anika says, “I’m not a journalist – I’m a human sharing a conversation about someone’s life. Empathy is everything. There is some pretty serious kōrero, but
we have some great laughs as well.”

But if the first episode of the video podcast, with Oscar-nominated film producer Chelsea Winstanley, is anything to go by, Anika should proudly add the word “journalist” to her stacked CV.

Anika is barefoot, comfortable in her studio and holds it together when Chelsea shares stories of childhood trauma, her determination to translate Disney classics like Moana and Frozen into te reo Māori for Kiwi children and, more surprisingly, her split from fellow filmmaker Taika Waititi.

“I was married to someone who really was just on their own buzz and had tunnel vision,” she says in the chat, which has made international headlines.

Anika tells us, “For me, doing the podcast is less invasive than a TV series with cameras in your face all the time. We were in a studio and the cameras were just over there in the dark, so we could ignore them and just talk. I managed to get through it, met some lovely people and heard some amazing stories.”

However, while she was making the podcast, Anika was going through a period of her life that she now thinks was the beginning of perimenopause.

“I’m going through hellfire in my brain,” she confesses. “But podcasting was a great way to get that off my chest. It was like doing therapy.”

Talking to actress Robyn Malcolm was a highlight for her. “She is my spirit animal,” says Anika. “She told me that she went wild and crazy for about 10 years, and she didn’t realise it was perimenopause. No one tells you!”

Last year, as she dealt with perimenopause and an ADHD diagnosis, as well as her diabetes, there were days where Anika just couldn’t get out of bed.

“I missed two podcast interviews because I was having severe panic attacks most of last year,” she reveals. “I was on ADHD medication, but it was the wrong one and it was giving me anxiety attacks, which was weird because I don’t get anxiety – it’s not a thing for me. But it totally screwed me over, so I just decided to stop taking it and feel better. Now I’m on an antidepressant that I take every day, which is amazing and has saved my life.”

Anika was diagnosed with ADHD around the time the COVID pandemic broke out. She recalls, “I was locked in a room and I couldn’t do things or go places. I needed to move and run, so I knew something was wrong.”

She says that after spending a lot of money, she was diagnosed and then she was asked if she wanted to be medicated.

“I wasn’t medicated for two years and then I started medicating myself to help get me through a lot of work. I’ve always been a workhorse, so I won’t not turn up, but then last year I couldn’t turn up. I just wanted to lie in bed all day because I felt pretty s**tty.”

At the time, Anika was terrified that the anxiety would prevent her from getting up on stage and performing, which is her job.

“But I know when I look back on that year, when I can see the wood for the trees, I will realise that those wrong drugs, the perimenopause, the pandemic… All that helped me to learn how to be a journalist. How to ask people the right questions because I don’t have the cosiest of lives. I’m not interviewing from a higher ground. I’m interviewing on the same playing field.”

Anika says finding the guests for the podcast wasn’t hard because she knew them all. She and producer Vanessa Hawken approached Chelsea, Robyn, Casketeers star Kaiora Tipene, Shortland Street star Bella Kalolo-Suraj, White Ferns cricketer Sophie Devine, comedian Tom Sainsbury, singer Tami Neilson, and actresses Claire Chitham and Grace Palmer, among others.

Anika gets personal with (from left) Chelsea, Tami and Robyn.

With the podcast now in the can, Anika says she’s enjoying having a few free hours in the day now that her youngest child, daughter Marigold, has just turned five and started school.

“I love swimming at the moment and I’ll sometimes go out to lunch or to a movie, but my main joy is being with my kids,” she smiles. “All snuggling down in front of a movie with popcorn – that sort of thing.

“But as anyone with ex-partners knows, there’s a lot of organisation that goes into managing four children and their other parents.”

Anika’s oldest sons Barry and Taane are now 12, while her other son Soren is nine.

“My kids really miss each other all the time, so when the twins aren’t at home, my younger ones are like, ‘Where are the twins?’”

Anika is still very much involved with music and is part of a group of 20 women in the industry who get together regularly with their children. They have group chats to support each other and share ideas.

“At the moment, we’re working really hard on getting pay equity for our women entertainers,” she explains. “We’re all in each other’s business so that we make sure we get the correct and deserved pay for ourselves.”

And at that, Anika is ready to go. Laughing heartily, she concludes, “Let’s just end our interview because I already know what the story is going to be. It will be my podcast, my difficult times, my amazing guests, but mostly my ADHD and diabetes, sprinkled with a bit of anxiety.”

She may be getting personal, but Anika Moa is still funny as hell.

It’s Personal With Anika Moa is available on all podcast platforms, YouTube and rnz.co.nz/anika, and plays Monday nights on RNZ National.

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