About 12 years ago, Steven Manning was at his lowest, his life plunged into hell by bipolar disorder.
“I was walking the streets of Fort Wayne with a garbage bag of clothes,” Manning recalled. “I had no money and no place to live.”
Today, he wears a sport coat and tie, and the smile and calm of someone who has found his way back and embarked on a new journey by starting a growing video production business.
He'll also be going Sunday to New York City to help the Clubhouse International organization, for which he serves as a board member, host a fundraising event at the United Nations building. Clubhouses help people with mental illness recover and rebuild their lives by giving them a place to be and by encouraging them to use their skills and talents.
Manning was asked to prepare a video on the clubhouse in Elkhart County in northern Indiana to show at the fundraiser. He also will give the appeal message asking those attending for donations.
“It is allowing me to give back to an organization that helped me,” he said, adding they eventually hope to have a clubhouse in every neighborhood worldwide.
Manning, now 55, was 38 years old the first time he experienced severe depression.
At the time, he worked as programming director for the Allen County Public Library's public-access cable television channels, now known as Access Fort Wayne.
Over several weeks and months, he progressed from suffering shaking limbs to a loss of appetite. Then he slid into full-blown depression.
“I remember one morning, I woke up and thought, 'I can't do this anymore,'” he said.
He grabbed a handful of pills and also called the former Charter Beacon mental health center, saying that if someone didn't come get him, he would take the pills.
They came, and he was hospitalized for 30 days and given medication, he said.
He seemed to be fine for the next year or two. Then in 2001, manic thoughts exploded into full-blown mania.
“I was just starting a new job, and I was there a week and the business let me go,” he said. “I was making all kinds of poor decisions during that time. As a result of poor decisions, I ended up homeless.”
Bipolar disorder soon submerged him in severe depression.
The disease, which is treatable, causes “unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks,” the National Institute of Mental Health says on its website, www.nimh.nih.gov.
The way back
Manning ended up at Park Center, a local private, nonprofit mental health center, which provided him with housing and care. He credits his therapist there, Thomas Sass, with starting him toward recovery.
Sass helped him rebuild his relationship with God and focus on what God thinks of him rather than what other people say about him, Manning said.
“That allowed me to really like myself — to be my own best friend,” he said.
Sass also taught him about setting short-term and long-term goals in life, such as in his relationships with God and other people, education and career.
Along with Love Church in the 1300 block of East Berry Street, which he attends, Manning said another key to his recovery has been The Carriage House, the local mental-health clubhouse at 3327 Lake Ave.
“The clubhouse movement focuses on a person's skills, talents and interests,” said Manning, who started going there in 2001.
When you walk in the door, they don't ask you about your diagnosis, he added. They ask you if you have skills to help with certain jobs around the clubhouse, such as fixing meals, planning events and more.
With him, that involved creating an in-house video production department that included Manning doing brief news reports on Carriage House activities and brief documentaries on staff and the program.
What really seemed to set Manning's life on its current positive course was a six-month, transitional job he took through Carriage House, which involved working in the copy center at the local Barrett & McNagny law firm, said Andy Wilson, Carriage House executive director.
“I remember him pushing himself beyond where he was comfortable,” Wilson said. “He was depressed as hell,” but Manning kept at it.
About two years later, in 2005, Manning started working as a control board operator at local Christian radio station WFCV, now at 1090-AM and 100.1-FM.
“Sitting there, listening to their programming, was very key in my healing,” he said.
One of Wilson's happiest memories came about six months ago when he walked into the Carriage House and noticed all of Manning's belongings were gone.
He and Manning had talked previously about how, as in the 1997 movie “Good Will Hunting,” there would come a time when Manning would feel ready to go out on his own.
Manning had left him a video clip of the film on DVD, along with the note, “Watch it.
“Andy, I'd like to write more,” Manning added, “but I have to go see about getting the rest of my life back.”
“I imagine Steven will accomplish whatever he wants,” Wilson said, “and I will be proud to have been a part of his journey.”
Manning launched his company, Manning Video Productions, while still at the Carriage House. He moved it Sept. 1 into a shared-space office area at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center at Stellhorn and St. Joe roads.
He produces everything from music videos, television commercials and Facebook spot ads to wedding, party and other personal videos.
He still helps WFCV occasionally with its promotional events out in the community. He also works part time for T.A.G. Art Company, for whom he performs as a unicyclist and juggler at various events.
Manning eventually hopes to move into filmmaking.
“I believe God wants me to produce and direct faith-based major motion pictures,” he said.
But there is no rush, no manic drive, to get there.
“When you are not in a rush — when you are not on this break-neck schedule — you can enjoy things a little bit better,” said a relaxed, smiling Manning, who takes medication to control his bipolar disorder and who has been symptom free since 2008.
“I'm just so thankful to God for this direction in my life,” he said.