Living with Madness: A Love Story
by Rona Riley

"But I patiently waited for the good. I always knew the good, sweet, loving Robin was in there, somewhere hidden by the worst of him."

This notably candid memoir recounts a forty-five-year marriage and the illness that nearly consumes it. The author begins with their childhoods—hers in Montreal and husband Robin's in Long Beach, California—during The Great Depression. Riley is a shy, Jewish girl, spared from her father's abuse toward her sister. Robin is the youngest of three brothers and "the one with most magnetism." Too much freedom at home leads the brothers to drug use and Robin's eventual contraction of the "slow-growing disease" Hepatitis C.

When Riley meets the drunk twenty-four-year-old Robin, she is initially "disgusted" but "intrigued" by him. By their first date, he is a "breath of fresh air" with "Paul Newman's good looks." Robin is forthcoming about his nervous breakdown and subsequent shock treatments in the Air Force. Diagnosed as schizophrenic (later as manic depressive), treatments help him temporarily, but he is unable to escape the illness. After the birth of their first child, Riley witnesses "the beast" emerge from her husband. She vividly recalls his scary yet sad descent and her helplessness as the situation impels Robin with bouts of erratic, dangerous behavior. She depicts its strain on their marriage and the toll the illness and medication take on Robin.

This work is a love letter to the author's husband. But it is also an important exploration about the limitations and complexities of living with someone suffering a long-term, debilitating condition. Riley shares fond memories of the man she loves but carefully examines the juxtaposition of him as husband and father against the "evil Robin" controlled by a hidden demon. It is ultimately a guide for others to help understand the patience required to support someone deteriorating over time. Riley reminds us more than anything else that love is strong and brings out the best in us.

Return to USR Home