It began with a romantic elopement 25 years ago. She dropped out of college and worked as a clerk until he got his degree. Then he landed an important government job.

They had two children, two cars and a fashionable suburban Maryland home. "Then two months, ago he dropped the bomb," she says with the flat, measured voice of a woman in shock.

"He said he was leaving, that he didn't love me anymore. Soon afterward I found out there was another woman. I've been on an emotional rollar coaster ever since."

Sometime during the last 10 years she says, they started taking each other for granted.

"Instead of talking to each other, we'd watch TV. We had sex less often.

If I tried t talk about it, he'd ignore me. So we found our escapes. His was drinking, mine was going to the shopping mall every day.

"I keep myself pretty decent. I wear good clothes, get my hair blonded, keep slim. There were a couple of men I knew who if I'd given the slightest encourgement would have been interested in me. But I was raised to believe that when you got married you stayed married and didn't fool around."

In the last few months the marriage crumbled. "He kept pulling away, but refused to discuss it. Then, suddenly, he told me he was leaving."

He came back home off and on during the past three months. "One day he'd say I suffocated him, the next day he'd buy me a cashmere sweater. At first I couldn't eat or sleep. I kept throwing up and lost 20 pounds. I talked about suicide."

Currently a free-lance illustrator, she is now pulling together her resume and looking for full-time work. In the last few years, some major magazines have commissioned her for drawings, and she wonders if he felt threatened by her new-found success.

"I'm just beginning to admit that I'm hurt and need help," she says. "Practically overnight, boom , everything I believed in went down the drain.

"I love him very much and realize he's ill. But right now I've got to get myself back together. Somehow, I know, I'm going to survive."