One of the hardest things about being a mom to four kids is the fact that you can’t evenly distribute your attention to each one of your children. In a perfect world you would have no trouble doing this. But my world is far from perfect.

My Z is constantly on my mind. Especially in April. Two years ago in April 2012, I had my first experience with 51/50. 51/50 is where you commit someone for their own safety when you believe they are at risk to harm themselves. Before we knew Z had bipolar disorder, trouble had started brewing at home. He was rebellious. We found out he was smoking pot, sneaking out. Normal kid stuff I guess. I did it, but my parents never knew. I quickly grew out of it. But not Z. Z was in everyone’s face with it and we had three very little children at the time. He left pocket knives out on the floor, left doors unlocked, and did things that were irresponsible and ultimately put our other kids at risk. My husband finally called him on it and told him it had to stop. Z flipped out. It’s a day I’ll never forget. He attacked my husband and broke a couple of his fingers. My husband is a much larger guy than Z and finally just sat on him to stop the insanity. Z screamed the entire time that we were abusing him and that he was going to kill himself. It was awful and a defining moment in our family. It fractured us. We called the police and they recommended a 51/50. Z was gone for several days and the house was peaceful. It felt like everyone could take a breath for the first time in months without waiting for the powder keg to ignite.

When Z returned from the inpatient treatment, things were bad. Nobody trusted anyone else. The relationship between Z and my husband was more than fractured, it was broken. Several more months of self-destructive behavior resumed until my Z took a ride with someone who had threatened to have him arrested the night before. In that moment, I lost all sanity as a mother and said things I deeply regret. I was so angered that he put himself, this child that I loved, into a position to be truly hurt. I realized at that moment that for the past six months I had neglected my other three children to focus on Z and I could no longer do so because it was destroying me. I was on so much anti-anxiety medication at that time that I was an absolute zombie. I called my mother and father and arranged for Z to go live with them. Their home was only 30 minutes away, but he was switched to a new school district and his life was radically changed.

I wish I could say that things got better for all of us but they didn’t. I was eaten alive with guilt. I felt like I should have moved myself out of my family home to go live in an apartment with Z. Clearly he couldn’t be around my other children. I was living in a fog of self-hatred for making the call to abandon my child. Everyone tried to reason with me that if I moved out with Z, I would be abandoning 3 other children. And although I knew they were right, I still couldn’t focus on my other children. It seemed that by making my decision to have Z move out, I had worsened my own situation. There are large gaps in my memory of time that I can never get back. And I hate that. My youngest wasn’t even two when all this started and so I missed a lot of the “fun” stages that are associated with having a toddler because I was off dealing with Z.

When April 2013 rolled around, my mother called me in hysterics. She and Z had gotten into a huge fight and he’d run away with a girl. The girl’s parents were also frantic. My husband (who knows my son very well) found him easily. Z was high and pumped up on a manic cycle (although we didn’t know it at the time). He again sat on Z while Z’s friend vandalized our car, the girl punched him in the face and broke his eye glasses, and general chaos ensued. The police came again and heard Z screaming that he was threatening to kill himself. By this point, we suspected he had bi-polar disorder but nothing had been officially diagnosed. He again ended up with a 51/50 and then was transferred to an inpatient hospital 2 hours away.

The first couple of nights were awful. The events of the previous April had fractured us. The damage done this April broke us. My husband had just been laid off and now his eye glasses were broken. His vehicle was damaged. And we had a son 2 hours away in inpatient mental therapy. We could little afford any of it, yet on the second night Z was there, I left work early and drove to see him. Visiting hours were between 7 and 8 p.m. nightly. I made the trip and within 5 minutes he was screaming at me and refused to see me. I was devastated. Luckily, that night I met his psychiatrist who explained that Z was in rapid cycle mode and needed heavy medication to help bring him out of the cycle. I made the trip 2 more times that week, consumed with the need for Z to know how much I loved him and for him to know that I was there for him. He didn’t seem to care either way other than to tell me each time he saw me how much he hated me. Regardless, at the end of his weeklong inpatient treatment, he was transferred to another facility for a 30 day inpatient stay. This treatment facility was 4 hours from home and required us to come every weekend for family therapy. My husband and I did it willingly, again giving up time with our other children (along with money we didn’t have to begin with) to help Z. In retrospect, I am grateful for the events of that April because he was finally properly diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and was put on the road to therapy, anger management classes, and given mood stabilizing medication.

Still, things are not good. Z still lives with my parents because he has destructive anger outbursts. I don’t trust him around his siblings. But during the past year I’ve learned to let go just a little bit. I can’t control what he does. I can love him, which I do, but I can’t stop his path to self-destruction. I do still watch him though. I guess that will never change. I’ve noticed recently that his self-medicating has ramped up. I tell myself that this April will be different because, although I’ll extend all my effort to help him, I realize I can’t “save” him if he makes the same kinds of choices he made the past two years. Still, I dread this month. I dread having to deal with everything that goes along with his disease. I pray that this month will turn out differently than the past two Aprils I’ve gone through. I’ve been trying to cherish the days that I have with my children, including Z, instead of just wishing time away and hoping that the month comes and goes without any event. And if I never hear the term 51/50 again, it will be too damn soon.