The Black Sheep or Mouton Noir: Condensed first 18 years of Life by Jacqui Adams


Jacqui Adams @sanferryann2 attended a workshop on telling your story 2 years ago and this was the basis of her first Ted Talk.

The Black Sheep or Le Mouton Noir

A black sheep on a white label
A black sheep

Listen to an audio version here

How many of you were called the black sheep of the family? Or that you’re useless, would end up in the gutter?

I was!

At home in England I was always responsible for everything that went wrong. Even the look on my face. Paris with my grandparents was totally different.

Calling somebody a black sheep is labelling them. (hold label up) If you call someone a black sheep enough, they usually end up believing they are, a vicious circle. Bury this label. Forget about it.

“Hold on. Could it be that being bad gets you noticed? Maybe even getting a good hiding for being in the way is better than no love or praise.”

Normality for me then.

By the time, I went to Approved school I had given up. I just didn’t care what happened. Never cried or smiled and I was disruptive most of the time but I sang and the wonderful Nuns used music to help me. I had piano lessons, singing lessons, sang a solo in Handel’s Messiah, which was recorded on vinyl. I disrupted the recording by climbing into a roof space though, lifting panels and dropping balls of paper on the nuns’ heads, much to the sound crew’s amusement. Lost my marks that week but didn’t get called a Black Sheep.

I learnt what kindness, love and hope was at that school. No bullying or cruelty there.

Life was so happy, going home for 3 day holidays, returning to an empty school, freedom to roam, play the piano until the girls returned. Climbing the hills behind the school in the fields of white sheep and swimming in the river Wye. After 18 months, I finally got my Star for having the best behaviour, for 10 weeks and was ecstatic. Some of the Black Sheep was snow white.

Then, disaster. I started self-harming badly, panicked the nuns. It was because I was going home again. The Black Sheep was back. Sectioned to a Mental Hospital as a suicidal psychotic teenager, heavily sedated and often put in a padded cell for the first year. There for my 17th and 18th Birthday I starved myself in response to the tranquilizers and they were stopped. I was an unwanted Black Sheep again.

At some point, fog cleared in my brain. I helped on the locked ward with the very difficult patients. Black to grey to dirty white sheep now.

I saw a job in the newspaper, went for interview. It was for a Water Heater Company. Lying, saying I lived in the nurse’s home with Aunt. GOT THE JOB. I went through testing, quickly moved to a better job on quality control and had responsibility, worked unsupervised largely, trusted to make decisions. Wow. All this in 6 months. Greyish sheep.

Bedsit when I became 18 and left the hospital secretly. Poor, little food, a tiny transistor and Radio Caroline to stop me being lonely. I was happy, the Black Sheep that niggled at me hardly surfaced.

I decided to do Subnormality nurse training, using references from my landlady and factory. Passing the GNC test meant I could train to be a registered nurse in 3 years. Kept quiet about care stuff. Very hard studying due to lack of education, at times I nearly gave up, but I fought it. I passed my first-year exams, as both of my brothers got into trouble, achieving little at school. Nothing to do with me though.

The Black Sheep got buried in the Hippy era and in my second year I met a chemistry student at Bristol and we fell in love.


The unwanted one was wanted. Sod the Black Sheep! I had love, cuddles and we got married.

I realised that I was no longer the black sheep of the family on July 29th 1972 when on my wedding day at my husband’s house, my parents turned up with an envelope from the General Nursing Council. I tore it open and saw the green corner of the uniform permit slip. I’d passed. I was now Qualified. I yelled I’ve passed at the top of my voice. Hubby and his parents were the first to congratulate me.

My mother tried to belittle me by saying you haven’t opened it properly so how do you know!

I wasn’t going to a be a mad cat lady any more when I got old. It was hard telling hubby my history, but he accepted it as he had a happy childhood. He tried to get me to heal the family rift but I didn’t trust them. I still blamed a lot of things on being a black sheep, like the 3 miscarriages I had before my son was born. Irrational? I had hormone problems. I was determined that my son and daughter would be loved and praised and would never be called Black Sheep, both, wonderful adults now. My children had a very happy childhood.

2 Grandchildren as well and I can’t believe it.

I was ecstatic, I did it, I conquered everything that was bad about me and I had a far better life than my brothers. Not a black sheep anymore. I did another nursing degree, then did lecturing qualifications to work with people with Learning disabilities. Went to South Africa with people with learning disability. Ran a rescue centre for Angora and Cashmere rabbits and learnt to spin their fur, won prizes for spinning at the Royal Highland show and have a Guinness World Record for the fastest Ferret in the world.

Penultimate comment from my husband. “With the childhood you had, you’ve made a fantastic job of raising our children.”

My son became a Computer Hardware Programmer and developed most of the data in DAB chips used in technology.

My daughter, although she now has an acquired brain injury, is the kindest, loving daughter anybody could have. “She is unique in her own way.”

I’ve had to find deep inner strength to survive but you can do this and


I am no longer the black sheep of the family.

I’m psychedelic!

Jacqui's psychedelic sheep
Jacqui's psychedelic sheep

Still debating about being a mad cat woman.

©Jacqui Adams 30.03.2017

Images of labels and sheep - the first a yellow label and psychedelic sheep, the second a black sheep on a white label, then the psychedelic sheep on it's own
I made these labels to hold up. Yellow was the label, black on back to represent me and finally the psychedelic sheep when I met my husband and got married.