JUST ROLL WITH IT, a middle-grade graphic novel about OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and TTRPG (Table Top Role Playing Games), was created with a single goal in mind: create a book that could be a respite for a child in need.
Maggie, our main character, is eleven and a half and just starting middle school. While she navigates tests, homework, making friends, and dealing with bullies, she also has to contend with her growing struggles that come with having undiagnosed OCD. If all that wasn’t bad enough? There’s a monster outside her school, and she’s the only one who can stop it. But with her trusty d20 (A twenty-sided die used in TTRPGS), she can survive it all… right?
As both myself (Lee Durfey-Lavoie, writer/co-creator) and Veronica Agarwal (Illustrator/co-creator) have struggled with mental health issues, especially when we were younger, we understood the territory of navigating mental and emotional health. Especially Veronica, who herself was diagnosed with OCD during the early stages of our creation of this book.
Just being a kid in middle school can be terrifying enough, without adding in the isolation and fear that mental health issues can bring. Anxieties, indecision, doubt, compounding with the everyday fears of grades, expectations, and puberty create a fearsome tornado of emotions that’s difficult to navigate, even for adults with the resources of therapy and medication. We wanted to create a book that explained some of these feelings, for a young kid going through their own struggle, for a parent or loved one caring for them, for a child who’s got a friend with mental health issues. JUST ROLL WITH IT aims to be something a kid can feel seen in, and be understood. Maybe they can’t voice some of their feelings, or their anxieties, but they can point to Maggie’s struggles – with OCD, making friends, dealing with the pressure of grades and the push to succeed -- and hopefully say, ‘This is kind of like me. This is how I feel.’
While I’ve got depression and anxiety, and take medication for both, we wanted to make a book that focused on OCD, because most public awareness is only of the more common depictions of OCD. Someone obsessed with keeping things clean or neat, for example. But that’s only a tiny fraction of what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is.
OCD starts with obsessive thinking – fears and anxiety that run on a loop, regardless of how illogical they might be. Your house is going to burn down. Your parents are going to die. You’re going to fail. These are some of Maggie’s thoughts, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. The specific thoughts can be as individual and unique as people are.
What connects them is that in their desire to make sure these fears don’t come to pass, people with OCD turn to compulsions. Practices that aim to alleviate these fears. If Maggie greets her house by saying hello and turning the light switch on and off three times, then the house won’t burn down. If she relies on her trusty d20 to tell her the answers on a test, then she won’t fail and her parents will stay safe. These compulsions, which began as a way to protect herself from these fears, become all consuming. Now something that alleviates anxiety only makes it worse – Maggie HAS TO greet the house, or it WILL burn down – and if she is unable to fulfill the compulsion the anxiety can become a full blown panic attack.
OCD, at its worst, can be a prison -- a labyrinth maze of terror and fear. But it doesn’t have to be, and just like any mental illness, having OCD doesn’t mean every day is hard. Some days are normal. Some are great. Just like life for everybody else! So one of our goals of JUST ROLL WITH IT was to show that while OCD and mental health issues can be overwhelming, they aren’t the end.
Hopefully JUST ROLL WITH IT is able to help someone – be it a child, or the child inside all of us – to make these feelings more understood. To make those feelings something that’s easier to deal with, to talk about, and to treat.
But even if the reader of JUST ROLL WITH IT doesn’t have these specific anxieties, we hope readers, of all ages, can understand OCD and mental health better. That they can understand a loved one who’s hurting, or learn to be less hard on themselves.
So far we’ve been honored to have children, parents, and readers of all ages reach out to tell us that JUST ROLL WITH IT has made a positive impact in their life. We hope if you read it, that it does for you as well.
Lee Durfey-Lavoie, a college dropout who was able to find a career in writing, loves role-playing games and spending time with his cats. Just Roll with It is his debut graphic novel.
Veronica Agarwal is a Cartoonist and Illustrator from NYC. She graduated from SVA (School of Visual Arts) in May 2016 with a BFA in Cartooning. She loves plants, summertime, dogs,
and her 3 cats! Her work focuses on mental health, coming-of-age stories, and friendship.