RETIREMENT is supposed to be the time of your life. But is it?

That was the question Annie Stirk began to ponder after she gave up running her own business last year.

Annie had enjoyed a high-profile career, including as a TV presenter where she shared her love of food. Until she retired last year, she ran an award-winning PR firm, Absolutely Food.

Annie was 67 when she decided to leave the world of work – and found the transition into retirement much tougher than she imagined.

"Running your own business was all consuming," says Annie, now 68, who is married to Ken and lives in Brandsby, North Yorkshire. "Part of me didn't want that to go – it was exciting and fun. I loved the creative side of it. It gave you a buzz when you got your stories in the press, or on TV or radio."

Part of the problem was that because Annie had given everything to her job, she didn't have many hobbies. And because her business life had been so busy, she found it hard to switch off and turn off the creative tap.

"I still wanted to do something creative," she says. "But I didn't want to do another business."

And so she launched The Time of Your Life, an online channel aimed at women who have retired or are about to retire.

Annie says: "The aim is to have a community, a way to express feelings about retirement and connect with other women."

And she says that admitting that retirement can be a rocky road is a bit of a taboo – unlike other stages in women's lives such as motherhood and the menopause, it's a subject that is not really discussed in public.

"Retirement is an exciting time, but a challenging one too. It's an opportunity to reinvent yourself, reprioritise, change course. But there are so many choices, it can be confusing. So it's nice to have friends and acquaintances to bounce ideas with."

For Annie, her work was such an ingrained part of her identity, that it took a while for her to come to terms with the change.

"I spent a big part of my career in TV and radio and I had a lot of opportunities to host events and be involved in some lovely stuff. So I'm not surprised I left it as long as I did to retire. People say don't let work define you, but my job was all consuming, I didn't have hobbies, work was my hobby. I worked for myself and it was energising and quite a lot to give up.

"I thought, if I am struggling, other women will have the same thoughts and feelings."

Online, The Time of Your Life creates a space for women to share blog posts and comments about their experience of retirement.

But in the autumn, Annie will host an event. "I want to get women together for the day and have two or three speakers telling their stories. It will be an opportunity for women to share their experiences and have a bit of fun." Dates and location are to be confirmed but Annie imagines it running from 10.30am-3pm with lunch and a glass of fizz.

Some of the issues facing women in retirement include financial concerns as well as family ones, she acknowledges. "Women might have caring issues; they suddenly have freedom and space but might have to care for a family member. Or they might have their own health issues. Finances can be a worry too – you can have a run of things pile in at at time when you are feeling vulnerable."

Happily for Annie, despite a few health issues, she has grown into her retirement – and is happy in it. She says: "You get used to a slower rhythm of things – I think I felt guilty not working – but I have gradually got used to the idea of not going to work."

She has enjoyed holidays with Ken, lunch with old college friends, and long walks with Sam, her fox red Labrador, without feeling guilty. She has taken up Pilates, is a member of two book clubs and even found time to do some volunteering at the Easingwold Tourist Office.

And she has more time to spend with her family: children Ed and Sarah, and her three grandchildren, Jack, 15, Jacob, 13 and Jaime, 11.

She says: "My message is: enjoy it. Use retirement as an opportunity to try something different, don't worry about the negative feelings, they will pass.

"Try to get together with other women to chat about how you feel – it's easy to think you are on your own – you are not."

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