Characterized by periods of mania (elevated mood) and periods of depression, Bipolar disorder is also known as Bipolar Affective Disorder. Previously, it was called manic-depressive illness. Bipolar Disorder can be very disruptive to family life. The sufferer may appear to be extremely motivated, happy and energetic while in a manic state and require very little sleep or rest. During this time they often make poor decisions with little understanding of the consequences. On the other hand, they may become moody, isolated and very negative as their mood swings to depression. Bipolar disorder often includes psychotic episodes such as delusions.
I have talked to many people who suffer from this illness and have seen the devastating impact that it can have on their lives and the lives of their family members. Fortunately, there are effective treatments to reduce the symptoms, but as with other mental illnesses, it can be difficult to get people to understand the need for treatment. For you, as a family member, this can be extremely frustrating and stressful, as you try to limit the negative effects on the family (often financial), and pick up the pieces while attempting to get help for your loved one.
As with other mental illnesses you probably cannot 'fix' your loved one, you can only support them until they get the treatment they need, and at the same time take care of yourself so that you do not burn out. Though this may not be what you want to hear, from my experience, I have seen that people who can shift the focus from the ill person to their own needs, tend to reduce their own stress and handle situations more effectively. Again, I stress the value of learning about the illness, letting the little things go and accepting that you cannot fix the problem. However, you can decide how you are able to best look after yourself so you can then look after your loved one with patience and empathy.