OSU Master Garden, Parkinson's Disease

Living with Parkinson’s Disease: Becoming an OSU Master Gardener

I’m not sure when I first heard about the Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) program, but it was many years ago. At the time, I was working full time and taking on another project would have been more than I could have handled. But I loved the idea of it. With its intensive training the program promised to expand a volunteer’s knowledge of horticulture. I filed the thought of it into the back of my mind until I might someday find the time.

But “someday” often comes with problems of its own. When I left my job in 2015, it soon became obvious that although Parkinson’s Disease was limiting my physical abilities, I would be happier having something to challenge my mind. I remembered the Master Gardener program and went looking for information. I came across an application for a new session of Master Gardener training that would begin early in 2022. I read every word of the linked information in an attempt to determine if I could be capable of completing the program. What I read on the website made the program sound flexible which was something my disease demanded. Nevertheless, I hesitated to fill out the form.

My physical ability to garden as I once did, doing physical chores for hours at a time, is no longer possible. Gardening and other activities are dependent upon how well my body responds to medication on a given day. My physical abilities are reduced. I am apprehensive to make calendar commitments that I may not be capable of fulfilling. The MGV program sounded very much as if it would be good for me. But would I be good for the program?

Although volunteers are not required to have gardening knowledge I most certainly did. In addition to studying botany in college, I had been reading and self-studying gardening books for decades as well as growing many types of gardens.

It took a friend pointing out how many other non-physical skills I still have that convinced me that I could be a useful and contributing volunteer despite my physical obstacles. Just applying was not a commitment. And there was no guarantee they would even accept me. I contacted a few friends and asked if they would serve as my references. The next day I submitted my application.

I didn’t hear anything for several weeks. I’d almost forgotten about it until one of my reference friends mentioned that he had been contacted. A few days later I received a phone call and an appointment for an interview.

As my interview date approached I began to have doubts and considered canceling the appointment. If I did that though, I likely would never get another chance. I had no doubt that my references would be good. I had chosen some of my oldest friends who know me best and could likely answer any question asked about me. All of them know my history as well as my history as a gardener. I was well aware that if there was going to be a weak point in the process, it would rest entirely with me during the interview process.

My biggest fear wasn’t my lack of gardening skills or knowledge but my disease. One of the issues that Parkinson’s Disease has created for me is a communication disconnect. Although my thoughts are clear, I sometimes have a difficult time converting my thoughts into physical words. It is why I prefer to communicate with friends in writing rather than speaking on the telephone. It can be both frustrating and embarrassing and it’s always worse with people I don’t know and in situations that are new to me – the very situation that this interview would be. To make matters worse, my tremor also gets worse in such situations. My medications, which usually control my tremors fairly well, often stop working if I’m feeling stressed. I was tremoring in the car as I drove to the interview. Was I about to make a colossal fool of myself?

I arrived with a few minutes to spare and was soon called into a meeting room where I sat down at a table with the director, a volunteer and another interviewer whom I immediately recognized from my old job at the fine arts center, and who was attending the interview via Zoom. Whether it was seeing the familiar face or simply the friendly tone set by all three interviewers, I was able to relax and settle into conversation. Unlike a job interview where questions are often designed to be difficult and throw an applicant off track, it was immediately clear to me that the purpose of this interview process was nothing more than to meet and get to know me. The meeting was relaxed and friendly. I explained my concerns but by the time the meeting was over, I felt reassured that my skills could be put to good use.

I was excited to have been accepted into the program and I enjoyed the online education and training. Today I continue to participate in continuing education and volunteer opportunities. Despite the battles we fight in life, it’s good to know there are still contributions to be made and accomplishments to be achieved.

MGV Stats 2020

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