“I’m willing to engage with the world”… Reclusive loners who step out into the sunlight

“Come on, let’s speed up a little!”

It was raining at 10 a.m. on the 30th of last month. Eight young people running along Seongbukcheon Park in Seoul increased their running speed at the words of their coach안전놀이터. These are reclusive loners living at the ‘Blue Whale Youth Recovery Center’, a support group for isolated and reclusive youth.

Among them, Seong-Hoon Yoo (pseudonym , 33 years old ) wore a hat pressed tightly against his dark skin. His body was drenched in sweat as he ran with a grave expression. Mr. Yoo runs 5km every Wednesday. They said he was a reclusive loner, but surprisingly, he took the initiative to talk to the reporter, who was panting and running along.

“Are you okay? If you don’t exercise and then run… it’s hard.” Although the speech was slow, it was full of consideration. The lonely young man laughed first.

“Do we look that dangerous?”

A reclusive loner. This is a name given by the world to people who avoid the world for 3 to 6 months. However, since it is a name given by people who do not know why they made this choice, misunderstandings often occur. This is especially true these days when stabbings and murder incidents occur frequently. Since there are often reclusive loners among the suspects caught in such cases, people sometimes have the prejudice that all reclusive loners are ‘potential criminals’.

However, those who have ever lived with ordinary loners shake their heads. Hankook Ilbo accompanied these loners for two days on the 30th and 31st, and confirmed for themselves that such views are ‘prejudice.’

Mr. Yoo’s daily life begins at 10 a.m. with other crew members (a term used by reclusive loners to refer to each other) and heading to the center. Here, crew members spend their days doing various activities together, such as cooking, exercising, painting, and performing. On the day after finishing the run, Mr. Yoo brought his guitar and focused on practicing playing ‘My Old Story’ while watching the video. This is to prepare for the performance scheduled for two weeks later. Mr. Yu, who bashfully says “I’m not good at it… yet” every time he makes a mistake, is a shy young man who is no different from other people.

He says that the reason Mr. Yu chose a closet instead of sunlight was because of his fear of others. The beginning was trivial. When he entered middle school, Yu’s mother reportedly packed a sandwich for her son, telling him to “eat it with his friends.” There was no problem at first, but as time went by, my friends’ demands became excessive. “Why didn’t you bring me a sandwich today?” “Prepare a different flavor of sandwich tomorrow.” If they did not obey, assault and swearing continued. After being ostracized like this, he was labeled as an ‘outcast’ throughout his school years, and after that, he closed his heart.

It is said that the situation did not improve even after leaving school. In the military, he went out at night under pressure from his superiors and fell from a high place, seriously injuring his head. At the company where he had worked hard, he was hit on the back by his team leader for his work mistakes and suffered constant verbal abuse. His co-workers consoled Mr. Yoo, but when he officially raised the issue, they closed their mouths. After being fired due to company circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic, in December last year, while working as a contract worker, I was assaulted without question by a drunk passerby.

“I was resentful of why things like this only happened to me.” Mr. Yu developed depression and did not leave the house, and he also began to stutter. Mold grew in his bedroom, but he didn’t come out for six months, completely immersed in the Internet. At the time, he said he thought, ‘I’m going to die like this.’ Then, in July, he came to his senses after receiving a text message from the Seoul Metropolitan Government informing him of a support system for isolated youth.

Social cost 7.5 trillion won… different from criminals

Are loners like Yoo particularly weak mentally or vulnerable to external shocks compared to others? no. Reclusive loners are already common. According to a study by the Youth Foundation, the national population of isolated youth is estimated at 340,000. The foundation claims that if they are neglected, social costs of 7.5 trillion won will occur every year. It is the result of adding up economic costs, policy costs, and health costs.

Most reclusive loners, like Mr. Yoo, hide from the world due to maladjustment at school and work and interpersonal trauma. As a result, some people become dissatisfied with society and commit crimes. However, experts argue that ‘reclusive criminals’ and ‘loners’ need to be clearly separated. Kim Hye-won, a professor of youth culture counseling at Hoseo University, emphasized, “Isolated young people have a personality that holds their dissatisfaction with society inside,” and added, “Most of them do not even have the power to commit crimes.”

They are also different from criminals in that they want to return to normal society. An example is Song Gyeong-jun (27), who headed to the free soup kitchen ‘Baha Restaurant’ on the morning of the 31st. Mr. Song was also a reclusive loner, but he left the center at the end of last year and started living on his own. Although he is still taking psychiatric medication, he is continuing his attempts to come out into society, including by learning boxing. Recently, he has been doing volunteer work at ‘Baja Restaurant’, providing meals to the homeless and elderly people living alone twice a week. On this day, Mr. Song worked hard preparing curry rice for 70 people.

Mr. Song is also a victim of school violence. He suffered from bullying since middle school, and decided to drop out as soon as he entered high school. There was quite a bit of friction with his parents. Her parents took Song to school and pushed her back, saying, “Let her go to school right now.” Afterwards, Song was unable to make eye contact due to her anxiety when meeting people, and she was diagnosed with social phobia and lived only in her home for seven years.

Then I came across a promotional post for the center posted on a depression community. Mr. Song said, “At that time, she thought about changing her life, so she contacted me without any thought.” Of course, adjusting to the center was not easy. She often spent time alone, squatting in the corner of the kitchen. However, thanks to the constant encouragement from his coaches, he was able to adapt smoothly and developed his dream of becoming a social worker and helping other reclusive loners.

What blocks loners trying to come out into the world is none other than the world’s prejudice. This is the crooked view that seeks to view all loners as would-be criminals with only one characteristic, ‘reclusiveness’.

They too are aware of the prejudice. Mr. Song opened his mouth with difficulty. “I think it’s so frustrating that they treat me the same way as those people. I don’t understand. Do you think I’m such a dangerous person in your opinion?”

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