Luke, 30-year-old Australian

Horrified by popsicle sticks

Luke Royes is so grossed out by popsicle sticks that even thinking about them for too long is enough to make him dry retch, maybe even throw up. He hates the way they look and feel, their rough texture, the threat of a splinter. He can barely even tolerate touching a popsicle stick, let alone putting one in his mouth.

“I had an evil boss who used to startle me, come up behind me and rattle them in front of my face, which was actually pretty nasty,” he says. Luke says the sudden, unexpected appearance of popsicles sticks – even wooden cutlery – actually physically frightens him. “Like when a friend very kindly put a wooden fork into a little cake she bought me … when I opened it and saw the wood fall out of the box, I jumped, it could have been a spider, a tarantula that had jumped out. I literally jumped out of my skin.”

“The doctor would put that popsicle thing in your mouth and then say, ‘Say ah.’ I could have just vomited.”

Maybe it all began when he was a little, holed up in hospital for days at a time with asthma. Surely they would have used popsicle sticks to check his temperature back then? Luke can’t be certain that’s where things began, but knows trips to the doctor as a kid always presented a special kind of hell. “They’d put that popsicle thing in your mouth and then say, ‘Say ah.’ I could have just vomited,” Luke, now 30, says. “Just the thought of putting it in your mouth, putting wood in your mouth … really, that’s just not right.”

For a while, Luke did eat those kinds of ice creams that come on sticks, though it was always a battle. “Sometimes you’d hold it for too long and your fingers would sort of feel funny or get sore,” he says. “Now, if I really want one, what I might do is cut the ice cream off the stick while holding the wrapper around the stick.”

That’s not to say Luke’s given up completely. He’s made a point of forcing himself to stir his coffee with those little wooden sticks cafes sometimes provide, a regular little challenge to keep things in check. “I did that consciously by building myself up to it and doing it every day so I’d get used to it, hoping that I would then maybe even lick the thing,” he says. “But that was too much so I sort of gave up, I figured just touching it was enough.”

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