Meryl Streep.

Belfast - Jill Shaw Ruddock, a mother and former high-flyer, was completely unprepared in her late forties for feeling “uncertain a lot of the time, shaken, and really low”.

For four years she felt “as though a stranger was inhabiting my body. I no longer knew who I was.”

When she saw her doctor he diagnosed those feelings, as well as the accompanying insomnia and heart palpitations, as symptoms of approaching menopause.

“I don’t regard myself as stupid but I honestly hadn’t put all the symptoms together, and even at one stage thought I might be pregnant,” says Shaw Ruddock.

But instead of simply breathing a sigh of relief when she found that she’d got through the experience, she started investigating the latest research and talking to hundreds of women about “the change”.

As a result, she now believes we should radically reshape our views of menopause and life after it.

“I have met many women who were over 50, 60 and 70 and were literally starting their lives again.

“It’s just part of the proof that I’ve found that life after menopause can actually be simply wonderful and a gateway to a new era for women who are freed from the tyranny of hormones,” she says.

She believes the physical and emotional changes women go through during peri-menopause – the two-to-nine-year phase leading up to the cessation of periods – give menopause a bad name.

But while the symptoms can be extremely challenging they can, she says, also be viewed as signposts to a different life.

“You’re leaving behind a woman who can give birth, but are welcoming a woman who can give birth to herself.

“You can make changes you only ever dreamt of once you’ve been though menopause. It’s leaving the best for last, and it’s definitely worth the wait.”

Her book, The Second Half Of Your Life, is an inspiring self-help guide which gives women a positive, practical strategy for their later years.

She says it is about following your natural instincts.

Women in later life stop producing oestrogen and progesterone – hormones responsible for regulating our metabolism and keeping us slim – and tend to stop focusing on everything associated with fertility and motherhood.

“Oestrogen makes sure we do what nature intended – procreate, look after the children and keep the peace. Without it women start to think about themselves, rediscover their passions and find out what they really want,” the 55-year-old says.

Shaw Ruddock, who has two teenage daughters, adds: “We need to be examples to our daughters to show them that life needn’t be a downward spiral after menopause and that far from becoming ‘invisible’, as is often claimed, women in middle age and beyond can and are contributing, being fulfilled and successful.”

Part of her strategy is what she calls the high fives: exercise; staying connected to friends and family; cultivating a passion; finding a purpose greater than yourself, such as volunteering for a charity; and eating well.

“Regular exercise will make the biggest difference to the quality of your life for the rest of your life,” she advises.

“Find an exercise routine you enjoy that incorporates muscular and aerobic effects, and do it six times a week. It will keep your body systems working and reduce your risk of illness from conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. It also helps boost your mood and can lift depression.”

Instead of diets, Shaw Ruddock opts for smaller portion sizes and aims for a healthy, balanced diet containing mainly whole foods.

She also uses a tiny amount of organic cider vinegar “as an appetite suppressant which helps speed up the metabolism”.

She believes that ideally women should begin preparing for post-menopausal life from their late thirties, and cultivate a passion or a variety of interests which will eventually help them avoid empty-nest syndrome and be a basis for a rewarding future life with more free time.

“Actually though, I don’t think there’s a need to retire unless you have to,” she says.

“I think carrying on working keeps you active and stops too much introspection. Slowing down doesn’t mean giving up. But if you have more leisure time, satisfy those secret dreams, whatever they are.

“Don’t let fear of failure hold you back from making a commitment to do something that could transform your life.”

The book also covers issues such as finances, going back to work and divorce and separation.

Sex and maintaining a long-term relationship are also featured. – Belfast Telegraph