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Conquer Yourself

by David Lopez

David shares how a monumental moment in Ocarina of Time inspired him to regain his strength after an unexpected challenge changed his life.


I’ve always been a believer that the hardest challenges in life are the experiences that make us better versions of ourselves. So, it makes sense that the moment I remember most from Ocarina of Time is the Water Temple battle with Dark Link. As a kid, I really struggled with that temple. It was the vertical nature of the temple that made it so complicated and confusing to navigate. If you missed a room, you had to take ten steps backwards to set things right, and then you could continue. Often I struggled to retrace my steps. The challenge felt greater because this temple required greater patience than most other temples in the game. Now that I understand how the temple works, I realize the things that frustrated me about this temple are exactly what make it such a brilliant Zelda experience.

Once I got my bearings and made progress in the temple, then came the mini-boss: Dark Link. I couldn’t crack the code. The mirroring of my attacks left me puzzled and confused. I grew frustrated, and the harder I tried to attack him with my sword, the more he’d just mirror my attacks and leave me more frustrated. I wasn’t sure how to move forward. Finally, I had a friend who educated me on using Din’s Fire. Dark Link can mirror you, but he can’t “out magic” you. As an adult, I cringe that that was my solution, but I was stuck without that tip.

But it wasn’t just the struggle that made that battle so memorable: when I frantically Z-targeted Dark Link and asked Navi for help, she gave me advice that would one day save my life: “Conquer yourself.”

This is a therapeutic retelling of the most horrifying month of my life in hopes that it might positively affect another reader.

I was sitting at my desk at work when I felt my right arm go numb from my shoulder down to my fingers. Immediately I knew this was a new sensation, and it was something bigger than just my arm falling asleep. I got up and paced around the office, shaking my hand and trying to get the blood circulating when my lips started to tingle. That’s when I officially hit panic level 10.

I talked to a coworker and asked her, “Do I look all right? I’m not feeling great.” You know how everyone hates the sound of their own voice when they hear it played back for them? I heard myself from outside of my body; I was hearing myself speak from another perspective.

She replied, “You look fine,” which gave me some comfort. Not convinced, though, I stepped outside, called my mom, and told her I’d like to go to the emergency room because I wasn’t feeling great. My mom asked me what off-ramp she should take, and I blanked.

Reyes Adobe. I’ve taken this off-ramp for the last eight years. How something so familiar could elude me made me panic even more. Eventually I was able to send her the address, and she arrived at my workplace. When we got to the emergency room, I was talking to my dad on the phone, and I couldn’t put together a coherent sentence. I have a two-year-old who can put his thoughts together better than I could in that moment.

Pretty quickly I was taken back into the emergency room. “Code stroke,” I heard the ER nurse who was moving me through rooms say. “I need assistance for this code stroke, STAT.” I was still coherent enough to know that that was not a phrase you wanted to hear about yourself. They immediately placed an IV catheter in my arm–I didn’t feel a thing. They sent me to get a CT scan on my brain–it happened in less than 2 seconds. Then, they conducted an MRI on my brain, which felt like 30 seconds of real time. In reality, it was 15 minutes. For all that I couldn’t comprehend, I could put one thought together: “I’m dying, and my brain is protecting me from knowing that my heart is about to stop beating.”

Image provided by David Lopez.

I dealt with about four of these stroke-like episodes over a month, and each time involved a new trip to the ER. On the last trip to the ER, they finally decided to see if perhaps I had something else. The ER doctor gave me a lumbar puncture to check my spinal fluids. I was smart enough not to look at the needle, but the ER doc explained enough for me to understand what he was about to do. I told myself I could do it–after all, I had watched my wife get an epidural. If she could be strong, so could I. After the dust settled and I was in a hospital room, I had a doctor of internal medicine come and speak very openly and honestly with me.

“You have meningitis. You're 32 years old, and you weigh 400 pounds. I have a lot of patients who are struggling with your condition, but they’re over 50, and it breaks my heart because there’s really not much they can do for themselves at that age,” he said. “But you’re 32. You don’t have to live like this. You can reverse this trend for yourself, if you want to. It’s not going to be easy, but I don’t want to see you die of a heart attack at 45. You’re capable of changing, and the only person that’s holding you back is yourself.”

Conquer yourself. It felt as though Navi herself was instructing me on how to defeat “Dark David.” I appreciated the doctor’s candid approach with me, as I used to be an athlete, and tough love is something that I’m familiar with. I knew my life would have to look differently than it had for the first 32 years.

The happy ending is that I have taken steps to start to defeat Dark David. I’ve lost nearly 50 pounds and have my blood pressure in check. I’ve also started running again and have eclipsed the four-mile mark. “Conquer yourself” has been so important to me because I’ve known that I was obese my whole adult life. I’ve tried to lose weight in the past by out-exercising my unhealthy relationship with food. I’m a binge eater by nature. It wasn’t until I approached my issues with food that I had any chance of losing weight. Gone are the impulses to snack when I’m stressed. Gone are the impulses to snack when I’m bored. Meningitis did me one giant favor: it took away my appetite while I struggled with it for a month. So I took advantage of that and have just kept my diet the same as it was while I was sick.

My brain is functioning properly, and I had a doctor tell me after the whole meningitis episode that “most people come out of this with some negative effects on their body, but you seem to be lucky in that you came out of this with a healthier approach to life.”

Image provided by David Lopez.

Conquer yourself. I remind myself of it daily and have that be the first thing I say to myself when I wake up. I’m determined to get “Conquer Yourself,” along with the Master Sword, tattooed on my right wrist. I want the permanent reminder above my right hand that food isn’t happiness. Happiness is being healthy and being able to play with my family. Happiness is being healthy and being able to talk about Zelda with you. Happiness is being alive.

Just as I helped Link to conquer his dark side, I have been able to conquer my own obstacles. My experience with meningitis was my own personal Water Temple. After I getting through the most troublesome month of my life, I can look back at it and understand how I’ve been able to make meaningful changes in my life. I understand that what I hated about the experience is what made it a life changing experience. I’m so grateful that Ocarina of Time taught me a lesson that gave me a second chance at life.

David and his son, Lawson. Image provided by David Lopez.

Cover image source: Zelda Universe



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