OSU Master Garden, Parkinson's Disease

Living with Parkinson’s Disease: Becoming an OSU Master Gardener Part 1

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. Whether I was looking in the wrong place or my search just happened at a down time for the program, I failed to find any class offerings. I got busy with other things.

One night a few months ago, I came across an application for a new session 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 would demand. 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 today is dependent upon how well my body responds to medication on a given day. My physical abilities even on a good day are reduced. I am apprehensive to make calendar schedules and commitments of time that I may not be capable of fulfilling. The program sounded very much as if it would be good for me. But could I be good enough for the program? I set the application aside.

But the more I researched and read about the program, the more interested I became. 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. I pulled up the application again and began to fill it out. And yet, I still could not bring myself to hit the submit button.

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 called. A few days later I received a phone call and an appointment for an interview.

As my interview date approached I continue to have doubts. I considered canceling the appointment and walking away. If I did that though, I likely would never get another chance. I debated dropping out right up until it was time to drive to the appointment. But by then it was too late. It would be rude to cancel an appointment without more adequate notice. I made myself get dressed and I drove to the interview.

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. 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 itself.

My biggest fear wasn’t my lack of gardening skills or knowledge but my disease. One of the issues that Parkinson’s Disease can cause is a communication disconnect. I do not have Parkinson’s hallucinations or any sign of dementia. In fact, I score quite high on annual cognitive testing. I can think clearly. I know exactly what I want to say. I do however, often 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. I excel at discussing and debating topics in writing. But when I speak, I can sound confused as if I don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s both frustrating and embarrassing. And it’s always worse with people I don’t know and in places and/or situations that are new to me which was exactly what 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 won’t work at all if I’m feeling stressed. I was already tremoring in the car. Was I about to make a colossal fool of myself? It was all I could think of as I drove to the interview.

I arrived with a few minutes to spare and was soon called inside 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. The disconnect was not completely erased — it rarely ever is. I stumbled over my tongue a few times, but it wasn’t as bad as I knew it could have been. Unlike a job interview where questions are often designed to be difficult and throw an applicant off track, it became immediately clear that the purpose of this interview process was nothing more than to meet and get to know the applicants. I explained my ongoing concern about whether I would be able to contribute enough of what the program needed. By the time I left I felt reassured that my skills could indeed be put to good use.

As the New Year approaches, I am excited to have been accepted into the program and I look forward to beginning the online education and training. It’s good to realize that despite my battle with Parkinson’s Disease and the many issues it brings, there are still accomplishments to be made and things at which I can excel.

MGV Stats 2020

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